As the largest utility in California, Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), San Francisco, along with its 16 million customers, has been heavily impacted by the state’s growing number and intensity of wildfires.
Last week, the company announced a novel approach to help address the increasing risk. It moves away from a classic form of distribution—overhead power lines—which have been identified as the culprit in more than one of the state’s catastrophic fires.
On June 7, PG&E marked the commissioning of its first hybrid renewable standalone power system. The so-called Briceburg system uses solar combined with battery energy storage and backup propane generation to provide a permanent energy supply to remote customers. The system will be used as an alternative to hardened poles and wires. It is expected to improve reliability and significantly reduce wildfire risk.
Built and installed by BoxPower Inc., Grass Valley, Calif., the remote grid permanently replaces the overhead distribution power lines that once served a handful of customers in a high fire-threat district (HFTD). Five customer sites in the Sierra Nevada foothills outside Yosemite National Park lost power in the Briceburg Fire of 2019 when the line serving them was destroyed. The customers who will receive power from the new system include two residences, a visitor center, telecommunications and transportation facilities. The historical line route poses challenges to PG&E to rebuild through the last 1.4 miles of rugged terrain. Instead, the utility has been providing temporary generation to meet local customer power needs.
The Briceburg system will also help the utility assess the feasibility for similar projects. PG&E services isolated pockets of remote customers throughout its territory, using long electric distribution lines that in many cases traverse through HFTD areas. It has identified hundreds of potential locations for remote grids and is targeting up to 20 operational remote grid sites by the end of 2022.