Dinner Table Conversation: Shut It Off Or Keep It On?

October 12, 2019
How well would your city function without power or natural gas? Not very well, right? If you think about how you use power in the first three hours of a day alone, you can probably name a lot of things. There’s the water heater, the stove, the microwave, the lights, chargers for devices, traffic lights … and much more! We rely on power every single minute of our days!
Hydrogen Iodide [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)]
People in California, especially in Northern California, are talking a lot about power outages. Why? Because the primary power provider, PG&E (Pacific Gas and Electric), decided to shut off power to various parts of the Bay Area. Why the extreme measure? PG&E has been in trouble the past two years due to incidents of sparks from its old equipment, in turn causing massive wildfires. Additionally, since a lot of their electrical wiring is above ground, the chances of a fire are fairly high. In response, PG&E decided it was better to be safe than sorry, so they shut off power in areas that were expected to have high winds combined with dry conditions. The purpose, the company says, is to protect people from possible wildfires, but California residents are curious whether PG&E is just protecting itself instead of working to fix their old equipment. It turns out that shutting off power is not an easy task to manage in large cities. What happens to hospitals, schools, and offices that can’t operate efficiently without power? What happens to people who depend on electricity to run their businesses, such as grocery stores and clinics? Should people expect a power outage every time there are dry conditions and wind? On one hand, power outages and the resulting challenges could prompt Californians to rethink how they source their energy. On the other hand, people are curious about how better equipment can get PG&E back into action so that power outages can be avoided. If you were a top executive at PG&E, what would you do?