With the world continuing to face the increasingly adverse effects of climate change including, the growing frequency and severity of natural disasters, microgrids are becoming an increasingly valuable tool to support communities during their times of need. During power outages, microgrids can ‘island’ from the grid and operate independently, providing resilience and keeping facilities online while also providing cheap, clean energy to both the customer and the communities they serve during times of normal grid operation.
In California, high temperatures, unprecedented drought, and extreme winds have created annual seasonal conditions where a spark at the wrong place and time can lead to a major wildfire. Following investigation of many of these fires dating back to the 1990’s, California utility, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) has continually been found guilty of criminal negligence for failing to manage vegetation near power lines causing many of these deadly disasters. Following the 2017 & 2018 wildfire seasons, PG&E was held responsible for damages equaling $30B in liability, ultimately driving the utility to bankruptcy in July 2019.
Recognizing the increasing frequency and destruction caused by wildfires, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) issued a resolution in 2018 that supported the use of grid de-energization to mitigate wildfire risks and establish notification, mitigation and reporting requirements. As a result, Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS) are now commonly undertaken by California utilities to reduce the risk of transmission infrastructure sparking wildfires.
The impact of these PSPS events is significant. In October 2019, PG&E shut down nearly 40,000 km of electric lines, affecting more than 2.7 million customers and costing the California economy upwards of $2 billion dollars. As such, the value and resilience that microgrids can provide to residential, municipal, and commercial customers is at a level never seen before.