The recent warm-up in temperatures, along with a few gusty days, serve as a good reminder of what’s to come. And just like in the past few years, it’s not a matter of if — but when — hospitals will experience a summer of fire conditions followed by autumn public safety power shutoffs (PSPS) during high-risk weather conditions.
In preparation for this year’s PSPS season, the Hospital Council Board of Directors and hospitals most impacted by the shutoffs recently had the opportunity to meet with the new PG&E CEO Patti Poppe, a recognized leader in energy and utility leadership who took the helm of the company earlier this year.
Ms. Poppe heard directly from our hospitals on the evolutionary (if not revolutionary) development of the partnership between our hospitals and PG&E in working toward long-term solutions for uninterrupted energy delivery in a challenging regulatory environment, as well as challenging climate conditions.
In response to a Hospital Council member’s question of, “What is the long-term plan to ensure long-term resilience of the energy grid in California?” Ms. Poppe talked about “thinking differently” and how power can be generated, stored, and delivered with both current and emerging technologies. This got me thinking about an article I recently read about Laila Ohlgren, a Swedish telecommunications engineer who was on a team looking to develop and perfect mobile telephony — cellphones.
Ms. Ohlgren’s team was working in the field testing how to place calls in a moving vehicle. The challenge was that once they had a dial tone and started entering the phone number, if the phone switched to a new tower during the process of entering the number, the call did not go through.
Engineers looked at placing more towers, driving slower, increasing the booster — all these suggestions were either impractical and/or way too expensive. Ohlgren then realized that the phone’s microprocessors could retain the number and send it in one short burst, eliminating the need for a continuous open line or a dial tone.
Bottom line: Her ability to think differently resulted in something that is now standard on all mobile communications — my kids, and millions of others around the world, have no idea what a dial tone is or what it sounds like.
Just like Ms. Ohlgren, Ms. Poppe and PG&E are thinking differently about energy generation, transmission, and distribution — batteries and solar power are being utilized, as our hospitals work with PG&E to find a future where patients do not have to worry about power issues at home, work, or in the hospital.
A lot has been accomplished to mitigate the PSPS impacts on our hospitals, and we are pleased that PG&E realizes we need to continue on this path to consistent power resiliency. This has the potential for real impacts on our hospitals and the patients we serve.