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How California Wildfires Open Up the Potential for More Renewable Energy

Photo by Pixabay

The 2018 Camp Fire decimated the town of Paradise, CA. Thousands of residents fleed flames licking around their cars as they made their harrowing escapes. The devastation claimed nearly 100 human lives and destroyed over 10,000 homes. Officials believe the utility company Pacific Gas and Energy (PG&E) caused the blaze as a transformer malfunction occurred minutes before the wildfire erupted.

In an attempt to prevent further devastation, governments and utility companies alike do well to investigate alternatives to the traditional power grid. Doing so could substantially reduce the risk of future fires. Additionally, switching to cleaner energy benefits the environment — and, as many scientists believe climate change plays a role in increasing the number of deadly blazes, such a shift to renewables comes none too soon.

The California Wildfire Season to Date

So far this year, CAL Fire and the U.S. Forest Service report over 4,000 wildfires across California. Over 50,000 have caught ablaze. The Tucker Fire in Modec Country ranks as the largest this year-to-date.

A quick glance at a wildfire map indicates an extensive number of wildfires blazing through the west. Since 1970, average temperatures in the region have climbed due to climate change. This, combined with a population increase as aging generations relocate to avoid harsh northeast and midwestern winters spur some to project even greater devastation in the future.

Last year, over 1,000 more fires burned across the state. Over half a million more acres burned that year than even two years previously. If wildfires continue increasing at such exponential rates, countless deaths will occur and more people will lose their homes and businesses.

How Renewable Energy Helps Prevent Fires

Improving the way authorities manage wildfires can go far in preventing future devastation. So can switching to renewable energy resources.

Solar power helps prevent wildfires because many such systems rely upon microgrids instead of drawing all power from non-renewable resources from overhead power lines. Microgrids are discrete energy systems capable of operating with or independent of existing energy grids. Such systems can power small communities, and they create fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

This helps prevent fires in several ways. One, systems operating independently of the main grid are naturally more self-containing should a malfunction occur. Officials can quickly pinpoint and correct equipment malfunction, something that takes considerable time along existing power lines.

Secondly, decreasing greenhouse gas emissions will combat rising temperatures. Some top global scientists believe humankind has only 11 years remaining to take meaningful measures to combat climate change. Should society continue on its current path, not only will some areas experience a spike in wildfire activity, others will face equally destructive storms and flooding.

Finally, at the present time, many consumers rely upon a power generator that utilizes non-renewable fuel sources to keep the lights on and ensure meats stay frozen during outages. User error can increase fire risk from such devices. By switching to solar, customers would enjoy a ready battery to keep essential appliances running if authorities need to cut the main power supply during periods of high winds, etc.

Other Measures to Combat Wildfires — and What You Can Do to Reduce Risk

Additionally, municipal authorities can devote a larger percentage of their budget to fire prevention efforts. For example, increasing cleanup of scrub brush along roadways can keep wildfires from jumping highways when they do occur. Practicing sound forest management, including controlled burns in areas of excess vegetation, also help prevent larger blazes.

Individuals can protect their property by clearing away any weeds, overgrown bushes, overhanging trees and other debris away from their living areas. When upgrading or adding additions to property, they can select fire-resistant building materials to minimize damage should the unthinkable occur. Individuals do well to test their smoke detectors on a monthly basis and keep a fire extinguisher and shovel readily accessible.

Families with children do well to rehearse evacuation ahead of time. There's no time to coach your 6-year-old how to climb down an escape ladder from a second-story window, for example, while flames consume your home. During wildfire season, keep cell phones charged and purchase each family member a backup charger — if evacuation occurs when family members are at school or work, you'll need to connect for peace of mind.

Keep water bottles in your vehicle at all times — one gallon of water per person per day. Also, pack a go-bag containing a weeks' worth of prescription medications, snacks and changes of clothing for all. It can take time for supplies to reach emergency evacuation shelters.

Renewable Energy — Saving the Planet, Saving Lives

Making the switch to renewable energy will take considerable time and effort, but the results in terms of lives and property saved make such ambitions necessary.

Emily Folk's picture

Thank Emily for the Post!

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Discussions

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Sep 10, 2019 5:35 pm GMT

Emily, It's amazing how comfortable renewables activists have become with shape-shifting tense from future to present, from "How Renewable Energy Might/Will Help Prevent Fires" to "How Renewable Energy Helps Prevent Fires", without any evidence that's currently the case. Though the failure of renewables to deliver on promises is legendary, this tendency comes off as less optimistic than duplicitous.

As it were - more distribution lines mean more maintenance and potential for fires. That's a proven fact, yet you claim microgrids are "naturally more self-containing should a malfunction occur", describing mythical "officials" who "can quickly pinpoint and correct equipment malfunction."

If communities served by microgrids which can afford to hire full-time, 24/7 staff to monitor operations and respond to malfunctions even exist,  we're failing to consider the other 90% of less-affluent communities which can't - another oversight with which affluent renewables activists have become far too comfortable.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Sep 10, 2019 9:43 pm GMT

If communities served by microgrids which can afford to hire full-time, 24/7 staff to monitor operations and respond to malfunctions even exist

Microgrids only really exist with the AI and IoT solutions that would automate much of these processes, so I don't imagine this turns into a grand staffing issue

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