Climate Change in Action: PG&E’s California Blackouts Should Be A Wake Up Call

Climate Change in Action: PG&E’s California Blackouts Should Be A Wake Up Call

Amicus SOS Trailer stands ready to help with critical charging and water filtration needs in Northern CA

The rolling blackouts in Northern California are a stark example of what the future holds in the face of climate change. The outages, which have now affected over a million customers, are meant to prevent downed powerlines from causing wildfires during this time of hot, dry, fire-prone weather. PG&E, the country’s largest utility, planned the blackouts because a powerline taken down by a tree was found to be the cause of the wildfire in Paradise, CA, last summer. The move is an effort to avoid the disastrous results of last year’s fire season, which ended in PG&E declaring bankruptcy due to lawsuits that emerged from their liability in the fire.

A Difficult Problem With No Easy Fix

Current cost estimates of the blackout range from $960 million to $2.6 billion. The outages have caused schools to close, businesses to shut down, and hospitals to scramble to help the most critical cases. The impact will be felt deeply by all, but especially by those who are always the first to suffer from the effects of climate change: people who live on a low income and are already struggling to make ends meet, or those who are in poor health and need services and power to keep them alive.

It’s a difficult situation that will only get worse as climate change causes wildfire season to extend and become more deadly. There is no easy answer for the decision between power disruption or risking disastrous fires. To make that decision unnecessary in the future, fundamental changes must be made to the way people get their power.

An Innovative Short Term Solution

A bright spot in this scenario comes in the form of the SOS trailer based in Chico, CA. The Amicus Solar Cooperative, a values-based solar purchasing cooperative of which Ipsun is a proud member, designed the trailer to help in emergency situations. The first time the trailers were used was in Puerto Rico during Hurricane Maria.


SOS Trailers getting ready to be shipped to Puerto Rico

Each SOS trailer contains a full solar setup in order to power floodlights to create a community gathering space once the sun has set. It has charging stations consisting of 15 lockers, each with two USB ports and an electrical outlet, allowing families to bring cell phones, laptops, even small appliances to be charged. Clean water is another huge need in communities affected by flooding or fire, so each SOS includes a 5-gallon water filter that can clean 500 gallons per day.

“One of the SOS trailers is based at a member company in Chico, CA, Alternative Energy Systems,”said Stephen Irvin, President and CEO of Amicus. “They’re hosting it there permanently because we know that the threat of wildfires is ongoing.”

Irvin said there are now a total of seven trailers, one of which is on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota to help with the flooding there. The rest are either in New England or Puerto Rico, all soon to be headed for the Bahamas.

“The Bahamas have such dire need right now and we’re expecting more hurricanes, so we think that’s the best use right now. These are obviously a short term band-aid to a community that’s been hit hard,” Irvin said.

The End Goal

For the long term, Irvin says that clearly large microgrid systems with storage are the solution. “I’m spending time soon on behalf of Amicus building a large microgrid system with battery storage in the Bahamas. We’re also working with the Red Sox Foundation to support a hospital in Puerto Rico using solar and storage to meet their needs. This solves the problem long term and that’s what we’d like to see take hold everywhere.”

So how do we make that happen? “That’s the challenge for our industry,” he says. “The microgrid solution is a good one for island communities because they import their oil and gas so the storage is a less expensive alternative.”

But that’s not the case on the mainland, and with many utilities working against solar, these long term solutions may take longer to implement. Irvin says he hopes that people will soon begin to understand the value of solar and storage to save money and gird against climate change driven disasters.

“Not only can it be life-saving during a disaster, but solar and storage are also a knee-jerk reaction to a utility’s rate design. For example, if the utility is using demand charges to discourage solar, adding storage can address that. There are a lot of facets that can help storage become more affordable, and people are seeing the value more and more.”

Act Locally

In Virginia, Ipsun has always been an advocate for helping people go solar and urging the state to adopt policies that help make it more affordable. Recently, we called on the Virginia General Assembly to take swift action to back up Governor Northam’s executive order calling for 100% renewable energy by 2050. Everyone can join this effort by contacting their legislators and letting them know that removing the barriers to solar is important to them. In Virginia, you can find your legislators’ names and phone numbers by visiting Who’s My Legislator.

To learn more about how to safeguard your home against power outages and take control of your own power, check out our website at or give us a call at 866-484-7786.

More: Learn about the Amicus Solar Cooperative and read up on the work Amicus did in Puerto Rico.

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