The size of California’s wildfires doubled year/year in 2020, so state officials are throwing technology enhancements at the seasonal challenge through the utilities, grid operators and energy planners.


“One of the biggest lessons we have learned is how unpredictable fire dangers and climate both are, and we’re still grappling somewhat with how to prepare for the unknowable,” said regulator Clifford Rechtschaffen of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). He spoke Wednesday during a webinar sponsored by the California Energy Commission (CEC).

To prevent rolling blackouts and ensure the reliability of the grid, Rechtschaffen said the state has invested $200 million in clean energy microgrids and $600 million in self-generation back-up power systems for individual customers in high-risk fire areas, among other things. How natural gas fits into the equation was not discussed.

“We have done a lot to prevent outages like we saw last summer, but it is important to understand that root cause analysis showed that the state’s reliance on renewable energy sources had nothing to do with the outages last year,” he said.

The CPUC, CEC and California Independent System Operator (CAISO) are investing in various resilience technologies.

CAISO Chair Angelina Galiteva stressed the importance of having horizontal and vertical resources, along with back-up power supplies. “These are valuable inputs to the grid that are decarbonized, digitized and decentralized because we want to be able to isolate areas for both public safety and reliability concerns.” Longer term, she envisions “deep decarbonization,” but only if reliability can be maintained.

 Meeting the challenges of the near- and mid-term future requires a balance that includes how the state deals with its aging natural gas fleet of generation plants, said the CEC’s Siva Gunda. “Whatever is done must be equitable, affordable and reliable, In my mind it is not impossible, but it is challenging, requiring all of us to come together.”