BERKELEY (KPIX) – This time last week the Bay Area was preparing for an unprecedented power shutdown. It did not go well, and chances are the next time will look very much the same.
“Well I think one thing that’s probably quickest and easiest to correct is the communication,” says Professor Alexandra von Meier of the University of California at Berkeley. “Those are lessons learned that I think are going to be corrected pretty quickly.”
Professor von Meier teaches a course on power systems at UC Berkeley. She says the past week has been an education in PG&E’s ability to manage such a large-scale shutdown. Beyond the now notorious communication failures, she says real grid solutions just will not come in the short term.
Last week, PG&E CEO Bill Johnson talked about efforts to make the system more resilient, and less weather-vulnerable.
“System hardening,” Johnson called it. “Different equipment on the equipment lines, sectionalizers, enhanced vegetation management.”
But even if cost wasn’t a factor that job will take years. So would the idea of dividing the system into microgrids that could provide some power at the community level.
“We could manage local distribution systems more intelligently and run them with local resources,” Professor von Meier says of the microgrid idea. “Kind of an emergency configuration. I think that would be a really worthwhile thing to invest in, and that’s not gonna happen overnight. I think where people really start to disagree is, well, whose responsibility is it to pay for that?”
No matter the solution, the costs will be staggering, and last week is just more evidence that climate change is delivering a bill that is due now. Californians should also remember that wildfire is hardly the energy grid’s only vulnerability.
“Who knows, the next power outage might not be something that’s within PG&E’s control,” Meier says. “It could be something totally different. It could be a great big earthquake it could be a cyber attack. Who knows? So it does behoove us to prepare for that.”