Risk outweighs energy reliability: What the CA wildfires are telling us about the future

Wikimedia.orgThe real new stories in California are not the wildfires, or climate change, it’s what the energy utilities are doing about them…it seems that financial risk clearly outweighs energy reliability.   PG&E is now routinely cutting power to millions of customers to avoid exposure to further fire liability.

Some commentators claim that PG&E has lagged in adopting their fire-safety technology:

Over the past decade, San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) has buried 10,000 miles of power lines: 60% of its lines are underground. It was the first big California utility to shut off power during extreme fire-risk days. It has hired five meteorologists, built 190 weather stations, replaced 18,000 wooden power poles with stronger steel poles, put up more than 100 cameras on mountain tops, and brought in two state-of-the-art firefighting helicopters to drop water when fires start near its lines.    The Mercury News

A quick glance at the comparative service areas demonstrates that this is perhaps unfair to PG&E.   Their exposure to potential wildfire, and the miles of power transmission lines require completely different risk-reward and risk management strategies.  What works in San Diego simply can’t be economically applied to the PGE service area.

What the fires are telling me:

  1. Our energy grid has become extremely vulnerable due to climate change
  2. The financial risks are measured in $billions.
  3. Thousands of miles of power transmission lines are not sustainable.  We need to reduce energy demand/delivery, and reach net zero NOW.
  4. Our cities need to become even less dependent on the power grid as quickly as possible, or we will see many more power outages, not just in California, but across global power grids

There are energy efficiency, energy storage, and local energy production technologies available that can help us get there quickly, and they are far more financially viable then burying thousands of miles of high voltage transmission lines.  The risks of not doing so are becoming very apparent.