How Tech From Australia Could Prevent California Wildfires and PG&E Blackouts

Post Syndicated from Peter Fairley original https://spectrum.ieee.org/energywise/energy/the-smarter-grid/breaking-pges-cycle-of-blackouts-and-wildfires

California utility Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) delivered a bitter pill last month when it said that deliberate blackouts to keep its lines from sparking wildfires could be the new normal for millions of customers for the next decade—a dangerous disruption to power-dependent communities that California governor Gavin Newsom says “no state in the 21st Century should experience.” Grid experts say Newsom is right, because technology available today can slash the risk of grid-induced fires, reducing or eliminating the need for PG&E’s “public safety power shutoffs.”

Equipment to slash grid-related fire risk isn’t cheap or problem-free, but could be preferable to the most commonly-advanced solutions: putting lines underground or equipping California with thousands of “microgrids” to reduce reliance on big lines. Widespread undergrounding and microgrids will be costly. And the latter could create inequalities and weaken investment in the big grids as communities with means isolate themselves from power shutoffs with solar systems and batteries.

Some of the most innovative fire-beating grid technologies are the products of an R&D program funded by the state of Victoria in Australia, prompted by deadly grid-sparked bushfires there 10 years ago. Early this year, utilities in Victoria began a massive rollout of one solution: power diverters that are expected to protect all of the substations serving the state’s high fire risk areas by 2024.