In a first for the California utility – and what may be a model for peers – Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) has replaced traditional distribution lines in the Sierra Nevada foothills high fire-threat district (HFTD) with a hybrid, renewable, and remote power system.
Severe drought and extreme wildfire conditions – worsened by climate change – can be catastrophic for utilities. Traditional wires-and-poles infrastructure carries the risk of transmission-sparked wildfires – a major concern across California, particularly in remote areas that often have distribution lines running through forested terrain. For instance, in Mariposa County, five different customer sites lost power in a 2019 fire when the line serving them was destroyed. Stretched across rugged terrain, though, it was a struggle to rebuild. Last year more than 4 million acres were burned in California due to wildfires. PG&E is spending about $4.9 billion this year in wildfire safety measures, including equipment and other systems.
The builder of the standalone power system (SPS), BoxPower Inc., used solar combined with battery energy storage – providing 89 percent renewable energy annually – and backup propane generation to provide a permanent energy supply to remote customers. Installing an integrated solar, battery, and generator SPS not only addresses the utility-related wildfire concerns, but also increases grid resilience and reduces greenhouse gas emissions in line with California SB100’s path to 100 percent renewable electricity by 2045.
Those receiving power from the new Briceburg Remote Grid include two residences, a visitor center, as well as telecommunications and transportation facilities. Although designed, built, and maintained by BoxPower, PG&E owns the system. The system can be monitored and controlled by both PG&E and BoxPower via satellite and cellular connectivity.
The Briceburg system is one of hundreds of potential locations identified by PG&E for remote grids to support wildfire mitigation efforts. The company intends to target up to 20 locations for deployment by the end of 2022. Some currently being assessed in HFTDs include sites in El Dorado, Mariposa, Tulare, and Tehama counties.