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How to survive the PG&E power shutdown and keep your devices charged

If you're in an area scheduled to lose power, you can take some steps before and during the blackout to stretch your battery life.

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Angela Lang/CNET

California's largest energy provider on Wednesday began cutting power to customers across Northern and Central California because of heightened fire risk due to dry conditions and forecasts of high winds. PG&E's planned blackouts may affect as many as 800,000 customers across nearly three dozen counties, with utility officials warning it may take seven days to restore power to everyone. 

PG&E is cutting the power to avoid a repeat of last year, when its equipment was blamed for starting a fire in the California foothills. The blackouts might spread to Southern California, as Southern California Edison warned it may also be shutting off power due to fire risk.

If you're in an area scheduled to lose power -- or want to ensure you're ready if the power does go out -- you can take a handful of steps now to help your electronic devices last as long as possible during the outage.

Check if you're in a planned power outage area

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PG&E's outage map

PG&E

PG&E has a page you can check to see if you're in an area scheduled to lose power

If the utility's page is unavailable, you can find other maps that can give you an idea if you're in a power outage area.

Charge up before the power goes out

The goal is to go into the power outage with all your mobile devices and portable energy sources topped off. 

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    A power bank can keep your phone charged.

    Aukey
  • If you have a portable power bank, make sure you've charged it up before the power goes out. A power bank won't get you through a week of uninterrupted power, but you may be able to get through several days if you turn on your phone to get updates then power it down again. And limit how often you check your phone: Each time you turn it on, you're draining the battery. 
  • If you've got a portable solar charger that can charge your phone, have that ready.
  • If you don't have a power bank or solar charger, you still may have a source of power. You can use the battery in a laptop -- either your current one or an older laptop you've retired -- to power your phone during the blackout. You'll need to find the right cables to make the connection, but you should be able to squeeze a few days of power for your phone. And if you're in a group with multiple phones, consider having the group use just one shared phone at a time instead of having everyone's phone turned on at once.

Conserve your phone's battery

To help your phone battery last as long as possible, you can take a few steps to nurse it through the outage.

  • First, turn off Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and GPS, unless you need them to get help in an emergency. You can keep your mobile connection on, because mobile carriers said their networks should be available through the blackout. 
  • Next, turn off push notifications and avoid streaming services, which take a hit on a battery. And dim your display: Bright screens are great, but they draw a lot of power. 
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    Your phone may have a setting to clamp energy-hungry services.

    Screenshot Clifford Colby/CNET
  • See if your phone has a battery-saver mode you can turn on in settings that will restrict high-power activities.
  • If you don't want to shut off your phone, you can switch to airplane mode, which turns off all the power-draining radios. Then if you want to make a call or send a message, take it out of airplane mode. And consider sending quick text messages instead of making phone calls, which can drag on and drain a battery.

For more battery-conserving ideas, see our guide for more on how to get your battery to last as long as possible through a blackout.

How else to survive a power shutdown

During a power outage, you have other things to worry about besides your phone.