Sitting alone in the candle-lit restaurant Reel and Brand in Sonoma, California, the US, on October 92019, during a planned power outage. Picture: AFP/BRITTANY HOSEA-SMALL
Sitting alone in the candle-lit restaurant Reel and Brand in Sonoma, California, the US, on October 92019, during a planned power outage. Picture: AFP/BRITTANY HOSEA-SMALL

New York — One of the rare beneficiaries of an unprecedented blackout that threatened to plunge more than 3-million Californians into darkness this week: the back-up power business.

Suppliers of back-up, diesel-fired generators, solar panels, batteries and fuel cells are seeing a sales opportunity in massive power shut-offs across the San Francisco Bay Area. Home solar provider Sunrun said hundreds of customers were spared from recent planned shut-offs because of their solar panels and batteries — and it expects that number to be in the thousands after this week’s blackout.

“With solar and storage, your monthly expenses go down and you get more reliable power 365 days of the year,” Ed Fenster, chair of the San Francisco-based solar installer, said.

The widespread shut-offs that California utilities, including bankrupt power giant Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), have been orchestrating to keep power lines from igniting more devastating — and costly — wildfires are shining a light on the need for more on-site power generation.

Environmentalists took advantage of the outages on Wednesday to promote more local wind, solar and battery resources.

“Turning out the lights for weeks at a time will become the new normal for California residents unless the state takes action to build a more sustainable energy system,” said Alexandra Nagy, state director of the environmental group Food & Water Action.

Fuel cell manufacturer Bloom Energy, which is based in San Jose, California, said it has seen sales leads double in the past two months, in part because of the state’s power dilemma.

“We deal primarily with commercial and industrial customers, and they are beginning to see this as the new normal,” Asim Hussain, Bloom’s vice-president of commercial strategy and customer experience, said in an interview. “With one day’s notice they could be faced with a multiple-days outage situation.”

Aaron Jagdfeld, CEO of back-up generator supplier Generac Holdings, said the widespread shut-offs PG&E is carrying out this week will “create a huge influx in demand” for the company’s products. The Wisconsin-based generator supplier surged 9.1% to a record as PG&E started cutting service to as many as 800,000 customers Wednesday.

Michael Halloran, an analyst at Robert W Baird, called the blackouts “critical to Generac’s ability to penetrate” the home standby generator market.

Bloomberg