The Questions Surrounding California’s PG&E Outage – The New York Times

PG&E uses 43 helicopters for aerial inspections, along with workers on foot. In some instances, the utility sends drones to help inspect the 24,782 miles of distribution lines and 2,443 miles of transmission lines.

PG&E may be able to restore power to some areas quickly, while other places could be without electricity for days.

Without a battery attached, a home’s rooftop solar system usually does not work when the electric grid blacks out, according to Sunrun, the nation’s largest residential solar company.

Here’s why: Rooftop systems from companies like Sunrun, Tesla and Vivint generally do not provide power directly to homes. The electricity generated from the panels goes to the electric grid, controlled by the power companies and grid managers, and the customer is credited. Because the electricity flows to the closest destination that needs it, it may travel back down to the home that generated it or to a neighboring property. Otherwise, the power flows wherever the next closest demand is, just as water follows the path of least resistance.

This setup is in part a safety measure to ensure that electricity workers aren’t harmed by home solar systems tied to the grid as they work to restore power.

But lithium-ion battery systems like Tesla’s Powerwall or Sunrun’s Brightbox, which charge during the day, can keep homes powered for short outages, depending on the unit’s size. Increasingly, companies marketing solar panels also sell batteries to keep homes powered in during grid outages. Lithium-ion battery technology, recognized with a Nobel Prize this week, is seen as a key to reshaping the electricity grid and home energy.

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