Though it is still in early days, and only hints of what’s to come are yet visible, the evolution to a more distributed system is inevitable. It can be done inefficiently and inequitably, or the state can make sure it’s done expeditiously and fairly, but it is going to happen one way or another.
What California went through last week was absolutely bonkers. To avoid sparking wildfires during particularly dry, windy conditions, Pacific Gas & Electric — PG&E, the state’s largest utility provider — shut off electrical service to some 738,000 people, a deliberate blackout unprecedented in the history of the nation’s electrical system.
Another season of big wildfire risks in California was never an if, always a when. And so here we are again.
When it comes to wildfires the experts are saying, “Abnormal is the new normal.” According to the National Interagency Fire Center, from Jan. 1 to Aug. 16, 2019, there were 30,000 fires and 3,667,237 acres were burned.
The idea that rooftop solar and other distributed resources could avoid the need for new power lines isn’t theory. In its 2017-2018 transmission plan, California’s grid operator cancelled 20 new transmission projects and revised 21 more due to energy efficiency and residential solar power altering load forecasts, with a projected savings of $2.6 billion.
California’s wildfire crisis will enter an unprecedented new stage Wednesday as PG&E plans to begin cutting power to about 800,000 customers, shutting down the electric lines that have sparked many of the state’s worst blazes and setting off a chaotic scramble of people preparing for an outage that could last a week in some places.
Six of the 10 most-destructive wildfires in California’s history have occurred over the past two years, and the state’s aging electrical infrastructure is a big part of the problem.
Pacific Gas and Electric Co.’s preemptive power outages during times of high fire risk are prompting some West Marin officials to consider other ways to be more self-sufficient with its energy.
Utilities are proposing a range of costly investments to the central grid that may take decades, which still leave “substantial risk” for power outages, says “California’s Critical Facility Challenge: The Case for Energy as a Service Municipal Microgrids,” prepared by Navigant for Schneider Electric.
In response to the wildfires that plagued California over the past 2 years (which led to the bankruptcy filing of Pacific Gas and Electric [PG&E]), a series of proposed solutions are on the table. One such solution includes the intentional shut-downs of the power grid during times of high fire risk.