IN ITS INAUGURAL conference dedicated to innovative energy technology, the Bay Area’s largest utility company, PG&E, heard from one of the most influential figures in the renewable energy space — Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

PG&E kicked off its first Innovation Summit last week with panels featuring Musk and other technology leaders, along with discussions of the utility giant’s goals as California becomes increasingly dependent on electrical power.

From left, Heather Rock, PG&E Senior Director Strategy; Rob Chapman, Senior Vice President, Energy System Resources & CNO, Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI); Leslie Rich, Senior Consultant DOE Loan Programs Office; and Ron Snedic, Senior VP Corporate Development and President GTI International, participate in a panel discussion during the inaugural PG&E Innovation Summit in San Ramon on July 25, 2023. (Ray Saint Germain/Bay City News)

Hundreds attended in person and online at the event held July 25 at the Roundhouse event center in San Ramon.

PG&E CEO Patti Poppe, donning a bright-green blazer and a PG&E T-shirt, interviewed Musk, who appeared via video call. Musk warned of increasing demand for electric power as California phases out gas power and traditional combustion engine vehicles in favor of all-electric vehicles.

“The magnitude of the energy problem that lies ahead is enormous. Whatever your expectations are with energy consumption, it’s too low.”

Elon Musk, Tesla CEO

“The magnitude of the energy problem that lies ahead is enormous,” Musk said. “Whatever your expectations are with energy consumption, it’s too low.”

Poppe and Musk also discussed their companies’ partnership, allowing PG&E to tap into home EV charging units during outages. Poppe said that these home charging units amount to an additional 9,000-megawatt capacity for the utility company’s electrical grid. PG&E serves approximately 16 million people across California.

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Poppe said in a panel with Schneider Electric CEO Annette Clayton and Microsoft vice president of energy and resources Darryl Willis that one of their goals in the conference was to connect with Silicon Valley’s startup community. PG&E will host a “pitch fest” in September, inviting participants to bring their ideas to the utility company and other industry leaders.

“We want innovation to come and thrive at PG&E,” said Poppe.

Significant focus was put on the company’s efforts to reduce wildfires in the state. Poppe said that last year, the company reduced the number of ignitions caused by their equipment by 68 percent and a 99 percent reduction of acres burned thanks to new innovations in automatic shutdown technology that ceases power flowing to wires that connect with foliage and other potential fuel sources for wildfires.

In the afternoon, the event continued with breakout discussions on the company’s efforts to modernize their gas system, reduce the risk of wildfires and prepare the grid for increased demand due to EV usage.

Spencer Otte recently graduated from Cal Sate Fullerton, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism. At Fullerton, he was the news editor and editor-in-chief of The Daily Titan and covered the 2022 midterm elections, the 2021 Orange County Oil Spill and President Biden’s visit to Irvine. This summer, Spencer was selected to be an editing intern through the Dow Jones News Fund.