How Can Electric Utilities Coexist with Increasingly Severe Wildfires?
by Bob Shively, Enedynamics President and Lead Facilitator
Utilities in Australia, the western U.S., and a growing number of areas around the world are grappling with the increased threat of wildfires. Once a concern limited to a few geographic regions, climate change is rapidly expanding the number of utilities needing to develop coherent strategies to limit the possibility that their equipment will spark wildfires and to limit the impacts of wildfires on utility reliability.
Hot weather causes lines to sag closer to the ground, wind causes lines to sway, and fires burn wooden power poles. All of these can result in live lines making contact with each other or with the ground, resulting in sparks that can quickly ignite dry vegetation. According to recent anecdotal information, while utility equipment in California causes only 10% of wildfires, these ignitions tend to occur on hot windy days. These conditions readily spread fire, making the impacts of utility caused fires outsized relative to other sources of ignition.
Assuming increasing hot, dry weather with strong winds is the new normal, what can be done to protect electric systems against future incidents? Utilities are focusing on three key activities:
- Working with the public to inform and develop cooperative strategies
- Enhancing situational awareness, so that operations can be adjusted to reduce risk during high risk conditions and so that equipment failure can be identified quickly
- Identifying high risk areas and spending money to harden equipment in those areas
Some fire hardening techniques include:
Unfortunately, many of the fire hardening solutions go against at least one of two key principles of the utility business – high reliability and low costs. Shutting down lines on high-fire risk days means that communities are out of electric service for prolonged periods. And investing in fire hardening is expensive. In regions where wildfires are prevalent, utilities and regulators must work closely to decide what is the most efficient solution to reduce wildfire risk, protect customer interests, and allow utilities to maintain a viable business model.
Learn more about power line safety and how the physical electric system operates with our online energy training courses. Enerdynamics offers two online courses that can help you better understand the electric system, Electric System Fundamentals and Electric System Fundamentals – Condensed, as well as a live seminar for groups called Electric System Fundamentals: From Generation to the Meter. For more details reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 866-765-5432 ext. 700. Don't forget to browse our other selections of online electricity training courses or electric utilities industry live seminars to further your knowledge of this industry.
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