To start with, let me express my sympathy to all those who have been hurt, lost property, or are threatened by the California fires. My — our — thoughts are with you.
The threat from the fires is quite direct. Images of a burning home, fleeing families, roaring flames engulfing a mountain side, smoke clouds billowing through the sky, firefighters pouring water onto flames. The images are compelling, the threat striking to the core.
There are many threats that come from disasters, this is a short discussion of one threatening San Diego as I type.
Reuters is reporting that the wildfires threaten the power transmission links into San Diego, risking making San Diego an electricity island, cut off from the larger power infrastructure. If cut off from external supply lines, Sand Diego would have a real risk of major blackouts. San Diego’s mayor has called for reduced power use.
You’ve got to conserve today. You have no choice.
Monday, the California Independent System Operation Corporation (California ISO), which manages the California grid, issued a transmission emergency after the Sntiago Fire in Orange County knocked two transmission lines out of service. And, the fires had lead to other lines being “de-energized” and “tripped out of service”.
Reportedly, California’s electrical grid has never been so stressed before.
“This is unheard of, to lose this many transmission lines,” said [ISO Spokeswoman Stephanie] McCorkle. “But it is obviously a historic disaster we are dealing with.”
Will San Diego actually have the major blackouts? I don’t know and I give credit to ISO and others that are certainly working their utmost to prevent this from happening.
But, crisis can represent opportunity … perhaps the chance to talk about the opportunity for a better future.
When we consider a path toward a healthier energy situation, one that would foster a Prosperous, Climate-Friendly Society, the path would include ever more energy efficiency, a smart grid with ever more distributed power (with a good deal of that coming from renewable power sources). Amid the many benefits of structuring the power system like this would be greater continuity of operations in the face of natural (or man-made) disasters. (For an attempt to foster this, see the Energize America Community Emergency Power Act.)
If some reasonable percentage of San Diego’s electricity were provided by rooftop solar and other renewable energy sources within city limits, this would have provided a path to maintain a continuity of power in the face of this fire’s threat to the electrical grid.
And, while we are at it, we might want to consider whether taking such an energy efficiency and renewable energy path to the future would foster a future less conducive to such massive blazes.
Let us be clear, it is impossible to state that Global Warming caused these fires. It is also clear that there are many contributing factors. As per Daniel James Brown’s OPED, Smarter ways to handle fire,
But increased fuel loads in our wild lands are only one element of a converging series of fire-related threats that now challenge us in unprecedented ways. Our penchant for building homes in fire-prone areas is another obvious and much-discussed factor. And a third, now undeniable, one is the role that global warming plays in raising ambient temperatures, promoting drought in already drought-prone regions and lengthening our fire seasons.
Global Warming, again, did not necessarily cause these fires, even as it is almost certainly a contributing factor.
It is thus interesting to note that one path toward addressing global warming (a distributed, energy efficienct, renewable energy system) would also provide communities more abilities to deal with future disasters like the one threatening San Diego today.
Back to today’s reality
My thoughts are with those threatened by the fires. I would hope, for all, that they are able to navigate the disaster with minimal loss, fast recovery, and that this threat to the electrical system doesn’t turn into reality.