Home solar power can help prevent wildfires

February 1, 2019 | 3min read

Home solar power saves homeowners lots of money. But did you know that it may also be able to save homes and lives? Wildfires in California and elsewhere have destroyed thousands of homes and claimed countless lives. Many of the wildfires of the past few years were caused by damaged electric power distribution lines that run through forested areas. Consequently, some experts are suggesting that home solar power might just solve the problem of dangerous electrical transmission lines.

Power lines can cause devastating wildfires

Distributed solar power and microgrid technology

A microgrid is a small electrical grid that can independently power a small number of homes. There are several different ways to power a microgrid. But currently, the most popular way is to use a combination of solar power and batteries. Microgrids can also be connected to the grid itself as a backup.

Microgrids could help prevent fires by enabling utilities to shut down electrical transmission lines during times of high fire risk. While transmission lines were disconnected, homes connected to microgrids would get their power from their microgrid. Most of the time, high wind is a factor in fires started by power lines. That same high wind could work right alongside solar power by running wind turbines.

Burying power lines would also help prevent wildfire

Where it is practical to do so, burying electrical transmission lines also reduces the risk of wildfires. San Diego Gas and Electric recently reported that they’ve buried 60% of its power transmission lines. SDG&E has also announced that an additional 20 miles of high-risk power lines are soon going to be buried.

There are two problems with burying power lines: First, it is expensive. An article in the San Francisco Chronicle reports that burying power lines can cost as much as $5 million per mile. The second problem is that burying power lines may not be practical in sensitive wildlife habitat areas. For those reasons, it’s likely that the solution to wildfires triggered by power lines will be a combination of microgrids, locally generated power, and burying transmission lines.

Wildfires caused by electrical power transmission lines

The California Public Utilities Commission estimates that only about 10% of the state’s wildfires are caused by power transmission lines. The problem is that those fires are usually the largest and most dangerous fires. The reason wildfires caused by power lines are so dangerous is that those fires are typically sparked in remote areas. Once authorities become aware of those fires’ existence, they have already become large, dangerous, and fast-moving fires.

For example, in the latter part of 2017, Pacific Gas and Electric power lines caused a dozen wildfires that destroyed many homes and claimed 18 lives. One of those fires, the Redwood fire, burned over 36,000 acres, destroyed 543 buildings and killed six people. The worst fire in California’s history, the Camp fire, destroyed 14,000 homes and killed at least 85 people.

The time to go solar is now

If you have been thinking about home solar power, the time to act is now. The Federal tax credit for solar power begins to phase out at the end of 2019. Utilities are also working to cut the amount of money that a homeowner can save by adopting solar. For example, Southern California Edison has announced rate changes that will reduce the amount of money homeowners can earn from their solar power. Those homeowners whose solar power systems begin operation before March 1st, 2019 will get grandfathered in under the old rates. Because of the Federal tax credit phase-out, and utility companies trying to cut into solar power owner’s savings, the best time to go solar is now. The sooner you go solar, the sooner you lock in the Federal tax credit and lock in your rate plan against utility shenanigans.

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Baker, David. (21 Oct 2017) Underground power lines don’t cause wildfires. But they’re really

expensive. San Francisco Chronicle. Web 21 Feb 2019. https://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/Underground-power-lines-don-t-cause-wildfires-12295031.php

Atkinson, William. (Nov. 2018) The Link Between Power Lines and Wildfires. Electrical

Contractor. Web 21 Oct 2019) https://www.ecmag.com/section/systems/link-between-power-lines-and-wildfires