California residents know one thing better than anyone outside the Golden State. Wildfires are the new normal. The state’s largest utility company, Pacific Gas, and Electric (PG&E) recently initiated periodic and wide-ranging blackout periods. These scheduled power outages should protect against catastrophic fires, such as the disastrous Camp Fire from a year ago. While necessary, the blackouts are an inconvenience to residents. But, some residents are affected more than others. Drivers of electric cars bear more of a weight than do drivers of conventionally fueled vehicles. So, how are California blackouts and electric cars supposed to coexist?
An electric vehicles’ primary source of power is from a home charging station or at one of many public charging stations. Without a ready supply of electricity, EVs won’t get far.
Ahead of the power outage, EV pioneer Tesla issued a notification to Tesla owners reminding them to put a full charge in their car before the blackout, as it would negatively impact both the supply and the speed of delivery at the charging stations.
The automaker continued, “As always, your touchscreen will display live statuses of Superchargers in your area.” While the heads-up was welcomed by Tesla owners, many of them shared photos on Facebook and other social media of massive lines at Supercharger stations.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted his company’s plans to install Powerpacks at Supercharger stations. The Powerpacks will protect them from power outages and give additional refill options when lines become excessive. As we speak, Tesla awaits permits for Powerpack installation permission.
What about EVs that are not part of Tesla?
Audi says that their E-Tron owners average 48 miles a day. That would leave sufficient battery reserve (assuming a full charge initially) in case of a blackout. Using the 48 miles per day average figure, E-Trons need a new supply of electricity every four days.
Volkswagen (Audi’s parent company) verified with Electrify America that the E-Tron’s in-car navigation tool will show the EA stations that have power available. Presumably, the offline stations would show up as such. So far, though, Electrify America cannot tell drivers in advance about open service sites that are without energy temporarily.
To further ease concerns of E-Tron owners, Audi is offering a full week of Silvercar rental service, if electricity shortages create problems for them. “It would allow customers to drive an Audi from Silvercar at no additional cost they needed to get through a difficult period caused by a blackout,” an Audi representative said via email.
Toyota responded as well.
Their company currently doesn’t sell a fully EV but commented on the benefits of the Prius Prime. A rep said that safety power shutoffs underscore plug-in hybrid advantages. These, since the Prime can run its gas engine during a blackout. He supported the thesis by saying that even though gas stations are affected by the PG&E shut down, the scarcity of charging stations make finding gas somewhere an easier task.
California blackouts and electric cars face an uncertain future, in spite of assurances to the contrary. If there are further developments, Gildshire will be on top of it.