Some Suggestions for Getting Through a Power Shutoff
It will still be a headache, but doing a few simple things now can help.
It looks like PG&E is going to shut off power in large parts of the Bay Area tomorrow early morning in order to reduce the risk of wildfires. I have been getting asked by colleagues about what they might do to deal with that. I’m no engineer, but I have spoken to quite a few, and here are some suggestions.
- Charge your electronics. But if you have a modern vehicle, keeping your cell phone charged is not going to be the challenge. You can charge it from your car. Likewise for your other devices with a USB connection.
- Since you are going to be using your car as a generator. Make sure it has fuel. Fill your gas tank.
- Charge any USB LED lights. We have one of these
- Have water stored. No electricity for long periods could mean problems with water delivery due to lack of power for pumping.
- Refrigeration may be the biggest challenge. The first and easiest thing to do is to turn your freezer setting to its lowest level NOW to bring the freezer to minimum possible temperature.
- If you have more than 12 hours before the shut off, it probably makes sense to fill containers with water and have your freezer turn them into ice. That is the best thermal mass to keep your freezer cold. You can also transfer some of that frozen mass to your refrigerator to help keep it cold.
Feel free to add further suggestions in the comments. Good luck to everyone who may have their power shut off.
And remember that the reason for the shutoff is high risk of wildfires. Be extra careful with fires, power tools, autos and anything else that can start a wildfire.
Severin Borenstein View All
Severin Borenstein is Professor of the Graduate School in the Economic Analysis and Policy Group at the Haas School of Business and Faculty Director of the Energy Institute at Haas. He received his A.B. from U.C. Berkeley and Ph.D. in Economics from M.I.T. His research focuses on the economics of renewable energy, economic policies for reducing greenhouse gases, and alternative models of retail electricity pricing. Borenstein is also a research associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research in Cambridge, MA. He served on the Board of Governors of the California Power Exchange from 1997 to 2003. During 1999-2000, he was a member of the California Attorney General's Gasoline Price Task Force. In 2012-13, he served on the Emissions Market Assessment Committee, which advised the California Air Resources Board on the operation of California’s Cap and Trade market for greenhouse gases. In 2014, he was appointed to the California Energy Commission’s Petroleum Market Advisory Committee, which he chaired from 2015 until the Committee was dissolved in 2017. From 2015-2020, he served on the Advisory Council of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. Since 2019, he has been a member of the Governing Board of the California Independent System Operator.
By the time you read this, supermarket ice supplies may be sold out, and with no power they cannot make more. If you drive out of the blackout zone you may still find ice in stores. A year ago we purchased a 12 pound ice block and now leave it in the freezer in case of another outage. Even ice cream will last for a day, with care.
Camping coolers with enough ice in them will work fine for a day. As long as the water puddle at the bottom still has unmelted ice, it is at 32 degrees. (Approximately). This is fine for milk etc, One advantage of using a cooler is that you can keep your most-used items in it, and not have to open the refrigerator when cooking. Tradeoff: more surface area keeps food colder (e.g. cubes, chips), while larger ice blocks last longer. The cooler will NOT keep things frozen.
Mobile phones: by now many people have purchased small USB batteries for long days. Leave them charging overnight (along with phones etc.) so they start the blackout period fully charged.
Finally, a good place to store ice cream and other food that may not survive is in your stomach! Guilt-free desserts.
As someone who moved to central America with regular electric outages, long and short, those are all good pieces of advice. Refrigeration is the big problem, as keeping food cool and free from rot over the long term is really hard. Treat your fridge like a cooler and have as much ice, especially blue ice, as possible and avoid opening it. My personal bit of advice though is to have some way to make hot water and coffee. We have gas appliances in Panama and bought a French press. The first all day outage without the French press was a misery to me without coffee. The final piece of advice is try not to think about what you can’t do. Keep busy with things that don’t require power, like working in the garden or reading by a window or battery powered light. Smile and imagine you are in the developing world, where this is a regular experience.