California PG&E power outages: Tesla, Audi respond to situation

We spoke with a handful of automakers about how owners of electric cars can navigate the blackouts.

Sean Szymkowski
It all started with Gran Turismo. From those early PlayStation days, Sean was drawn to anything with four wheels. Prior to joining the Roadshow team, he was a freelance contributor for Motor Authority, The Car Connection and Green Car Reports. As for what's in the garage, Sean owns a 2016 Chevrolet SS, and yes, it has Holden badges.
Sean Szymkowski
3 min read
Electrify America charging station
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Electrify America charging station

Electrify America says all of its chargers are currently operable.

Electrify America

For California residents, wildfires are becoming a new normal. One of the state's largest utility companies, PG&E, has initiated wide-ranging blackouts to protect against the possibility of a fire that could quickly turn into a statewide emergency. The practice, called a "public safety power shutoff," began Wednesday, as high winds and hot temperatures move over the area, with some 500,000 electricity customers affected across the Bay Area. Up to 800,000 people may feel the effects throughout the blackouts.

When power will come back on is unclear. For electric vehicle owners, that poses a bit of a problem, since their cars' main source of power comes from electric charging stations at home or at public stations. Without a source of power, EVs won't get terribly far.

Ahead of the blackout on Wednesday, Tesla pushed a notification to owners' cars urging them to fully charge their car ahead of the blackout in their area. In part, the notification said the blackout "may affect power to charging options." The automaker continued, "As always, your touchscreen will display live statuses of Superchargers in your area."

Tesla did not respond to Roadshow's request for comment when we asked for additional information about advice it may have for Model 3, Model S and Model X owners. In response to the notification, Tesla owners took to social media to share photos of massive lines at nearby Supercharger stations.

On Wednesday evening, Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted the company plans to install the company's Powerpacks at Supercharger stations to protect them from power outages. The Powerpacks will be installed in the next few weeks as Tesla awaits permits. He added Tesla Solar is also coming to stations to provide clean power and no blackouts around the clock.

Audi told Roadshow that E-Tron owners typically drive, on average, 48 miles per day, which leaves plenty of battery reserve in the case of a blackout. With the figure, E-Tron drivers, on average, need to fully charge their cars every four days.

Still, the company checked with Electrify America (a Volkswagen Group subsidiary) and the charging station operator said there are no stations affected by the PG&E blackouts at this time. The Audi E-Tron's in-car navigation will show which Electrify America stations are currently occupied or not available, though the company said it's working to learn what a station would display if it did not have power.

If that's not enough, Audi also offers seven days of Silvercar service to all owners, including those who left the dealership with an E-Tron. "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," a representative told Roadshow via email.

, which currently does not sell a fully electric car, did comment on the benefits of the Prius Prime. A representative told Roadshow via phone that situations such as the safety power shutoff underscore the benefits of a plug-in hybrid since the Prius Prime can also run its internal combustion engine, which takes gasoline.

However it's important to note that even in a blackout, gasoline stations cannot operate, either. Where the problem gets trickier is an EV's range limitations compared with a tank of gasoline, and the sheer abundance of fuel pumps compared with charging stations.

Roadshow also reached out to for comment on the situation, but the automaker did not immediately respond. Nissan also did not immediately respond for this story. The Chevy Bolt EV and Nissan Leaf are two additional mass-market electric cars on sale.

Hit the road in the 2019 Audi E-Tron electric SUV

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