Pandemics and PSPS – The New Normal

by Jon Thompson on April 14, 2020

Courtesy: The San Francisco Chronicle

Once this pandemic passes, sometime in the early summer, we’ll need to start thinking about the summer fires and the potential for another Public Power Safety Shutoff (PSPS). I spent two days without power last summer and while this pandemic is miserable due to the total lack of human contact outside of our immediate family, it is not as inconvenient as last years PSPS. At least now we have Netflix, PS4 and the Internet. Last year I spent my time monitoring the ice in the cooler and looking out across the bay during night drives and wondering what the rest of the world was doing with all their electricity and lights.

Courtesy: The Union

At the end of the two days I found myself sitting on the curb outside our home as our neighbors drove by, cursing our local utility, PG&E, and swearing they were going to buy a Tesla Powerwall so they never had to go through this again. While we can make ourselves as self-sufficient as possible, the real inconvenience came from the fact that our local grocery was closed, the one store that was open had massive lines, coffee shops were closed, pharmacies were closed, and all the schools were closed. Had those locations been able to stay open, either due to having a generator or storage system onsite, it would have made a tremendous difference in our lives.

I just spent the last two years working on energy systems and I know this is very doable. Our local Target had power and people massed in the entry to charge their phones, the nearby grocery store that was still open faced the freeway and I recall seeing evacuees from the fires up north parked in the front lot as one parent went inside to buy breakfast for their kids while the other tried to find a way out of our powerless county. My friends from other parts of our area have a hard time sympathizing but I’ll have to say that if you didn’t live it it is hard to understand it. It is especially hard for me to understand why such a thing would be necessary in this day and age and how it is possible for one company to have the power to shut off your life whenever they see fit. There’s got to be a better way.

Courtesy: Newsweek

Until there is a better way, a happy middle ground may be the passing of some kind of local ordinance stating that any ‘critical business’, like those we saw surface during this pandemic, are required to have back up power generation. These costs should perhaps be offset by PG&E and so as to lessen the impact of their actions. Several well placed commercial energy storage systems, such as the Tesla Powerpack or a Generac Commercial Generator would have had a huge impact on how my community functioned. Just being able to keep the schools open, so we could then travel to our places of work, would have made a huge difference in our lives.

Courtesy: Tesla

We know another PSPS is most likely going to happen this summer. We’ve gotten used to the fires and odds are we’re going to have to get used to pandemics. While pandemics are not welcome they are not necessarily a surprise. Folks in the epidemiological space knew this was going to happen for years. We also now know that the fires will most likely come every October. The trick is to now figure out how to live with these new events and not let them totally disrupt our lives every time they happen. We can plan ahead and we should. Some well placed legislation might just help us to live a bit more comfortably at least with the fires. We’ll have to see what comes of the pandemics once this one subsides. I really hope this is not the new normal but rather fear that it is.

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