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California power grid, wildfires
15

California power grid, wildfires

California power grid, wildfires

(OP)
So, among our various issues in California, we have an aging electric grid.
It may be more an economic /political issue than engineering?

https://www.wsj.com/articles/pg-e-knew-for-years-i...
https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/28/business/energy...

Even in spite of massive intentional blackouts, it seems that one or more of our recent/current fires were caused by power lines.

Of course, people don't like wide cleared areas along power lines, but maybe that would be a big starting point.

Thoughts?

Jay Maechtlen
http://www.laserpubs.com/techcomm

RE: California power grid, wildfires

Some people don't like a lot of things that would be beneficial to them. It is more political than economic. California is still wealthy, although many of its citizens and cities are not.

RE: California power grid, wildfires

Everyone complains when taxes get raised and everyone complains when the government doesn't have the funding to do things it should do.

RE: California power grid, wildfires

Quote:

government doesn't have the funding

And yet, the power companies are more than happy to charge us millipennies per mile for delivery of the same electricity that they now withhold from us, because those micropennies went into profit, rather than actual maintenance.

TTFN (ta ta for now)
I can do absolutely anything. I'm an expert! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKorP55Aqvg
FAQ731-376: Eng-Tips.com Forum Policies forum1529: Translation Assistance for Engineers Entire Forum list http://www.eng-tips.com/forumlist.cfm

RE: California power grid, wildfires

But otherwise stock prices wouldn't go up as quickly (/s)

RE: California power grid, wildfires

Saw this quote somewhere:
It costs about $3 million per mile to convert underground electric distribution lines from overhead, while the cost to build a mile of new overhead line is less than a third of that, at approximately $800,000 per mile, according to a section on PG&E’s website called Facts About Undergrounding Power Lines.

California has 25,526 miles of higher voltage transmission lines, and 239,557 miles of distribution lines, two-thirds of which are overhead, according to CPUC. Less than 100 miles per year are transitioned underground, meaning it would take more than 1,000 years to underground all the lines at the current rate.

RE: California power grid, wildfires

2

Quote (RVAmeche)

Everyone complains when taxes get raised and everyone complains when the government doesn't have the funding to do things it should do.

This conversation always reminds of this scene.

Edit: Probably should add something slightly more beneficial to the conversation. This summer they applied a wrap and coating to the bottom 8' of wooden H-frames in my neighborhood (Colorado Rockies). I'm not sure if that will actually help since flames can get a lot higher than 8'. I wonder the cost difference steel monopoles vs putting lines underground? Especially since all of the lines burnt down last year were replaced with more wooden H-frames...

RE: California power grid, wildfires

Quote:

Less than 100 miles per year are transitioned underground
so barely $300 million was spent, but they consistently made "available" to stockholders over $1 billion per year, except for the massive loss allocated for the fire from last year.

TTFN (ta ta for now)
I can do absolutely anything. I'm an expert! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKorP55Aqvg
FAQ731-376: Eng-Tips.com Forum Policies forum1529: Translation Assistance for Engineers Entire Forum list http://www.eng-tips.com/forumlist.cfm

RE: California power grid, wildfires

That's capitalism, American style.

John R. Baker, P.E. (ret)
EX-Product 'Evangelist'
Irvine, CA
Siemens PLM:
UG/NX Museum:

The secret of life is not finding someone to live with
It's finding someone you can't live without

RE: California power grid, wildfires

It is not going to be easy to put transmission lines underground in the rock of the hills and sharp valleys where the most difficult fires start.

And no, California would not allow the necessary clear-to-rock and continuous application of vegetation killing chemicals over a minimum 300 feet on each side of the transmission lines necessary to ensure that a line drop could not deflect in a high wind far enough to reach flammable material; nor would they appreciate the sudden runoff of mud into local streams and rivers nor mudslides onto roads where there was no longer plant material to retain the soil.

If they did, then every millionaire homeowner in LA on those angle-of-repose fire target hills would have cleared them to dirt as a fire-break a long time ago, and then watched their properties subside with the next heavy rain and head into the surround canyons.

RE: California power grid, wildfires

One of the reasons why we chose to live down on flat land far from any untended brush or forest land.

John R. Baker, P.E. (ret)
EX-Product 'Evangelist'
Irvine, CA
Siemens PLM:
UG/NX Museum:

The secret of life is not finding someone to live with
It's finding someone you can't live without

RE: California power grid, wildfires

Replacing the bare overhead conductors with insulated ones should reduce the wild fires at the same time not costing a fortune to do the work. Why is that not an option!

RE: California power grid, wildfires

The metals in the cables do not deteriorate in sunlight, but insulation does, unless you use the outrageously expensive stuff. Even then, something like Kynar is only expected to last 30 years. In any case, sufficiently thick Kynar to prevent arc-through would add 40% to the weight of the existing cables, which means that EVERYTHING needs to increased, tower strength, connections, cranes, transport trucks, etc. Note the latter means that additional truck trips are required to carry the heavier cables, per mile, so construction cost per mile is more expensive

TTFN (ta ta for now)
I can do absolutely anything. I'm an expert! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKorP55Aqvg
FAQ731-376: Eng-Tips.com Forum Policies forum1529: Translation Assistance for Engineers Entire Forum list http://www.eng-tips.com/forumlist.cfm

RE: California power grid, wildfires

Quote (RRaghunath)

Replacing the bare overhead conductors with insulated ones should reduce the wild fires at the same time not costing a fortune to do the work. Why is that not an option!
Full insulation would be similar to an underground cable. Too heavy, and cannot support itself. Covered conductor is sometimes used to prevent outages caused by wildlife, but when it falls, there is no fault and it remains energized on the ground with the utility unaware. Accidental encounters are unavoidable.

RE: California power grid, wildfires

One report claimed that one of the fires (not recent, but in last 10 years) started when the loop on an insulator from which the insulator hangs wore through or fatigued, dropping the insulator, the jumper connection, and the related transmission lines. This is similar to the Silver Bridge collapse.

I would expect that as that line fell it would hit the tower, causing a short and a massive arc; if it was insulated it would not immediately arc, but wear against the tower, unnoticed, until the insulation failed and it did short. There would be no indication of failure seen by the grid until either type of arc event.

State officials complained that the insulator failure would have been detected by a person climbing the tower, which is one thing that is done. But I think the transmission line has to be shut down to allow that, where helicopter surveys can happen with the lines still live.

Similarly there can be problems with the splices; failure inside the splice is difficult to inspect.

Perhaps there's an opportunity for building robots that operate like sloths, hanging from the lines and crawling along them with cameras and thermal sensors. They could climb the insulators and check the supports and provide high-magnification images of the splices. Helicopter surveys aren't close enough to see in detail and people climbing towers is likely to result in people getting killed.

RE: California power grid, wildfires

7
To answer Jay's initial post:
This is a failure of government.

PG&E has been offered (guaranteed) no competition, their customers have essentially no choice, and PG&E's profits and maintenance records have been explicitly approved by government regulators and politicians for decades.
And now California government (politicians) - many who receive generous campaign money - are assigning evil to this opportunistic firm. What do you expect? Do you blame a snake for eating mice? Of course not, that is what snakes do. The government has been tenderly nurturing this snake.

Capitalism is not on display here. Capitalism involves free choice, clear rules (regulation), and competition. None of these 3 existed, nor will exist, for PG&E.

When there is a single utility, this is a very similar situation as government-provided services.
Except one benefit for government: campaign cash. Public-owned utilities cannot directly provide campaign contributions. PG&E, however, provides millions of political dollars every year. This is why PG&E has existed all these years, despite historically poor customer service and significantly higher rates than adjacent government utilities like SMUD, and miserable maintenance records. The government loves the free money, even though they hate where it comes from.

If you think capitalism is the problem, buy a government-developed and marketed smart phone and car. Smart phones and cars have free markets, and 99% of us participate freely in these markets.

Tying this back to engineering and our profession:
I have worked for both private firms and public entities. Both have similar problems. However, getting rid of unmotivated and low quality employees in the public sector is nearly impossible. And these people are cancer to the moral of the department and the profession, but most government engineering departments keep these bottom feeders alive. The engineering community will excel when engineers have to compete; something that rarely happens in government.

RE: California power grid, wildfires

We are having a bad wildfire season in Australia as well, so can't send firefighters to help you this time.

RE: California power grid, wildfires

Short term fix may be to use eminent domain to widen the power line easements where falling trees cannot touch the high voltage lines.

RE: California power grid, wildfires

The sad part of all this is that it's going to be the customers, taxpayers, and small businesses paying the price for all of this nonsense. I know many in manufacturing are losing contracts for work they cannot deliver, and a few major companies that are viewing this as the proverbial final straw prior to relocating elsewhere.

RE: California power grid, wildfires

Probably the answer lies in micro and mini grids and avoiding the transmission lines through forests.
I know, easier said than done. But can we allow this destruction our limited forest wealth!!

RE: California power grid, wildfires

Quote (RRaghunath)

Probably the answer lies in micro and mini grids...
Probably not as hard today as it would have once been. Base load generation plants are slowly going away in lieu of smaller renewable sources and gas turbine generating stations so very high power transmission over great distances has a little less need today (however in California it looks like they'll be importing power from outside for the foreseeable future).

Brad Waybright

It's all okay as long as it's okay.

RE: California power grid, wildfires

There have been enough failures over the last 20 yrs that a statistical analysis should be completed that helps to focus on the 2 or 3 most likely failure modes for all such failures. The repair and upgrade procedures that should be adopted should focus on those 2 or 3 modes. Perhaps there are modern monitoring or detection devices that can detect the onset of failures, alert the dispatcher to allow shutdown of the offending wires and dispatch repair crews.

California has exported its power generation requirements, which in turn leads to the dependence on the long distance transmission system. In particular the increase in solar generation leads to the "duck curve" and an increased reliance on northwest hydropower, so I don't see any sort term decrease in reliance on the long distance transmission system. Overseas the newer tranmsmission lines are UHVDC with all sorts of solid state corrective devices ( sorry , I am not an EE), and perhaps an upgrade or modernization of the california transmission system would emlate the recent overseas advances.

"...when logic, and proportion, have fallen, sloppy dead..." Grace Slick

RE: California power grid, wildfires

Transmission lines are one thing, but distribution lines should be underground. Where I live, all new urban/suburban developments in the last 60 years have had underground power. I know that is impractical for rural areas, and prohibitively expensive for existing built-up areas, but it should be the goal. Where wildfires/bushfires are a recurring thing, building in those areas is always going to be hazardous, especially where so called conservationists get in the way of clearing undergrowth by proactive burnoffs.

RE: California power grid, wildfires

Where I live, virtually 100% of all distribution lines for power, TV, Tel, etc are underground, and it's been that way since they laid the first brick in town. Irvine, CA is a planner city, from the ground up as it were. During the 1970 census they estimate that there were 1,500 people living in what would someday be the city of Irvine. Officially the city was founded in 1971 with a master plan. 10 years later, when they conducted the 1980, which was the same year we moved to Irvine from Michigan, the city had a population of about 60,000. By 1990 that number was 109,000, and 141,000 by 2000. The 2010 census showed a population of 212,000. They now estimate that the population is 276,000.

John R. Baker, P.E. (ret)
EX-Product 'Evangelist'
Irvine, CA
Siemens PLM:
UG/NX Museum:

The secret of life is not finding someone to live with
It's finding someone you can't live without

RE: California power grid, wildfires

3
When the PG&E San Bruno Gas Line exploded, people were not just pointing the finger at PG&E, they were also blaming the California Public Utilities Commission. The California PUC was a plumb political appointment riddled with industry insiders and party cronies. People had been complaining about the Cal PUC for decades. Some changes were made to the Cal PUC after the San Bruno Gas Explosion, to at least show a semblance of a course correction but these days in a one party state the media doesn't bash the state for its failures.
There isn't any way to look at PG&Es current problem and not lump the California PUCs decades of favorable treatment into the mix. PG&E was a prized stock for retirees because it paid dividends. It was also the choice of institutional investors. More particularly, it was/is important to CalPERS, the money black hole known as the California Public Employees' Retirement System, which is guaranteed by California taxpayers,

RE: California power grid, wildfires

hokie66…

Quote (We are having a bad wildfire season in Australia as well, so can't send firefighters to help you this time.)


Can you at least run an extension cord over here? smile

I live in Fresno, in the San Joaquin Valley and far from the forests. I haven't experienced any of these "scheduled" power outages (yet). However, one cousin lives in the Oakland Hills (San Francisco area, East Bay) and one nephew lives near Auburn, uphill from Sacramento. Both of them have experienced a couple of these power outages so far.

Fred

==========
"Is it the only lesson of history that mankind is unteachable?"
--Winston S. Churchill

RE: California power grid, wildfires

Sorry, but we have enough problems of our own with reliability of supply. Queensland, where I live, is expected to supply power to the southern states which have shut down base load power stations, and are finding that relying on renewable energy is not all it's cracked up to be.

RE: California power grid, wildfires

That's always been the problem; no energy source is as easy to turn on/off as fossil fuel. The only other comparable alternative is nuclear, but it's got its own set of side effects.

TTFN (ta ta for now)
I can do absolutely anything. I'm an expert! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKorP55Aqvg
FAQ731-376: Eng-Tips.com Forum Policies forum1529: Translation Assistance for Engineers Entire Forum list http://www.eng-tips.com/forumlist.cfm

RE: California power grid, wildfires

Quote (IRstuff)


...no energy source is as easy to turn on/off as fossil fuel.

That might be true in the case of natural gas-powered turbines or even diesel-powered generators, but in the case of coal fired plants, I suspect that the 'ease' of turning them ON and OFF leaves a lot to be desired.

However, isn't it true that Australia, in conjunction with renewable sources, is experimenting with the 'storage' of electrical power, both directly, using batteries, and indirectly, using other storage schemes, such as mechanical and physical (i.e. gravity assisted)?

John R. Baker, P.E. (ret)
EX-Product 'Evangelist'
Irvine, CA
Siemens PLM:
UG/NX Museum:

The secret of life is not finding someone to live with
It's finding someone you can't live without

RE: California power grid, wildfires

Nevertheless, it's still a matter of hours, rather than the next diurnal cycle, but none of them are necessarily stopped cold; I would expect something like going from 40% of capacity to 75% of capacity would be relatively quick.

TTFN (ta ta for now)
I can do absolutely anything. I'm an expert! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKorP55Aqvg
FAQ731-376: Eng-Tips.com Forum Policies forum1529: Translation Assistance for Engineers Entire Forum list http://www.eng-tips.com/forumlist.cfm

RE: California power grid, wildfires

JohnBaker,

I think "experimenting" is the correct term. Yes, batteries are being tried. A big Tesla one in South Australia, but that only provides power for a short time. Pumped storage hydro makes good use of excess capacity wind/solar when available, but sparsity of appropriate sites is limiting. Nuclear should be an option, but it is not palatable politically, yet. The base load capacity in the southern states, primarily coal, is aged and inefficient, and needs replacement.

RE: California power grid, wildfires

Nuke plants do not like to be ramped up and down either. Our local utility has quite a bit on nuclear power but uses pumped storage to smooth out the demand load.

----------------------------------------

The Help for this program was created in Windows Help format, which depends on a feature that isn't included in this version of Windows.

RE: California power grid, wildfires

Yes, nuclear with pumped storage is the ideal solution, IMHO.

RE: California power grid, wildfires

Nuclear power is too expensive compared to everything else. EIA releases a yearly report on the levelized cost of energy for all the different forms of generation. Nuclear power doesn't make any sense if you have access cheap natural gas or have good sites for wind and solar generation. Nuclear plants are being shutdown because they can't compete in unregulated regions in the U.S. Watts Bar 1 and 2 were the last two units built in the last 24 years and those are in regulated markets. The way that natural gas and renewables in the U.S. is going, no one should be talking about nuclear power until we run out of natural gas or start taxing anything that emits CO2. People keep trumping nuclear power because it doesn't emit CO2 and it seems like something that is easy to wrap your head around. It is just a coal plant that uses uranium instead of coal. It is almost twice as expensive as wind and solar in locations with good capacity factors.

https://www.eia.gov/outlooks/aeo/pdf/electricity_g...

RE: California power grid, wildfires

Nuclear is indeed too expensive at the moment, and probably will be for years to come. Thus, the need for more coal fired generation. There should be a mix. Speaking for Australia, which has plenty of coal, and exports a lot of it, coal is the most economical. If Japan, China, and India can use our relatively clean coal, why not us?

RE: California power grid, wildfires

Perhaps they should talk to those guys at the Navy research labs who have applied for a patent on a compact nuclear FUSION reactor:

https://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/30256/scient...

John R. Baker, P.E. (ret)
EX-Product 'Evangelist'
Irvine, CA
Siemens PLM:
UG/NX Museum:

The secret of life is not finding someone to live with
It's finding someone you can't live without

RE: California power grid, wildfires

Yeah well, we'll see. Who remembers when fission was going to be "too cheap to meter"?

The problem with sloppy work is that the supply FAR EXCEEDS the demand

RE: California power grid, wildfires

Quote (SnTMan)


Who remembers when fission was going to be "too cheap to meter"?

I do. The below item is an excerpt from something I posted a couple of years ago:

One of the problems was that companies like GE and Westinghouse got into the nuclear power plant business but treated the reactors as just another source of heat, a replacement for the firebox in a coal/oil-fired power plant. They did not start with a bottom-up approach but rather tried to adapt existing technologies wherever the could get away with it. Also, in the early days, the public was sold on the idea that nuclear power would be so cheap that they might not even have a need for meters on people's houses. In other words, it was way oversold in terms of what it was capable of doing and for what the economics was going to be. It never lived up to its hype.

And then there was a very short period of time where the magic of so-called fast breeder-reactors caught the imagination of the industry, where not only would the production of electricity be dirt cheap, but that they would also be producing, virtually for free, the nuclear fuel, in the form a trans-mutated Plutonium created in the core of the Uranium-fueled reactor, that would then be used to fuel the next reactor built, a sort of nuclear perpetual-motion. BTW, this idea did NOT go well as the ONLY commercial fast breeder-reactor ever put into service, Fermi I near Detroit, had a near total melt-down of the core in 1966 (the term 'China Syndrome' was coined after this accident occurred). While there was no release of radiation as a result of this incident, the potential for disaster was much greater then in the case of a water-cooled reactor, like Three-Mile Island, since Fermi I used a closed-loop liquid-sodium based heat exchange system which if it had been breached, would have been a potential bomb in and of itself, surrounded by hundreds of pounds of enriched Uranium and deadly Plutonium.

They managed to repair the damage and the reactor was put back on-line in 1970 but was shut-down two years later and officially decommissioned in 1975, however the reactor was never completely dismantled and remains radioactive with its containment vessel sealed until some future date. In 1988, Fermi II, a light-water reactor, built adjacent to the then shut-down Fermi I plant, went on-line utilizing the original steam turbine/generating facilities.

BTW, back in 1962, when I was 15 years old, me and my family got a chance to visit the soon-to-be-completed Fermi I plant. My cousin was an electrical engineer working there while the plant was being built and he arranged for us to get a private tour of the facility, including being able to go right inside the containment vessel. I have to say, at that age and based on all the stories being told about how nuclear power was going to bring prosperity to the nation, it was a pretty cool experience.


And on that tour of the Fermi I plant, they had already opened the visitor center and they literally had a display making the claim that it was possible that sometime in the future, there would be no need for electric meters, that people would just pay a minimal monthly flat-rate for their electricity, generated by nuclear power plants like Fermi I, fast-breeder reactors.

Which brings to mind something that actually did happen in California. When a protracted drought hit the state about 10-12 years ago, they started to threaten people in places like L.A. that they could be fined for over-watering their lawns or rinsing their driveway with a hose. Anyway, someone noted that the people living in the Sacramento area didn't even have water meters, they simply paid a flat rate based on the size of their house and yard. In other words, there was no incentive to stop excessive water usage, not like there was in most of the rest of the state, particularity Southern California. It took awhile, but that situation was eventually corrected.

John R. Baker, P.E. (ret)
EX-Product 'Evangelist'
Irvine, CA
Siemens PLM:
UG/NX Museum:

The secret of life is not finding someone to live with
It's finding someone you can't live without

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