Resiliency & Safety
An aging energy infrastructure and a changing climate threaten the safety and livelihood of California’s residents. Climate change impacts are leading to significant increases in the frequency, size, and destructiveness of wildfires, while leaks in the natural gas infrastructure have created major safety and environmental concerns. To address these and other challenges, the CEC is working to equip communities, businesses, and public agencies with breakthrough technology solutions to build a safe and resilient energy system. The topics below encompass some of the key areas of strategy development and technology research and deployment that will strengthen California’s ability to respond to changes in the coming years.
Featured Research Topics
Wildfires and other natural disasters have highlighted the necessity for new technologies capable of maintaining power to critical operations and services during electric grid outages. Microgrids are a new solution that enables critical facilities, such as healthcare facilities, emergency response shelters, and fire stations, to continue operating during a grid outage using onsite renewable generation and energy storage, instead of diesel generators.
The CEC has been working to advance microgrid technology for over a decade. In 2015, the CEC began a targeted effort to advance microgrid technology to the commercial stage by awarding funding for 30 microgrid projects in California, including a microgrid on tribal land at Blue Lake Rancheria in Humboldt County. Since going online in 2017, the microgrid has been a critical lifeline for the community – providing power to over 10,000 people during a day-long grid outage in 2019, and keeping power to the central command center for firefighting operations during a wildfire in 2017.
Climate Adaptation Tools
California’s energy system faces a number of extreme weather-related risks that are expected to increase with climate change – including droughts, heat waves, wildfires, and floods. To address these threats, California’s state and local planners, utilities, and first responders are working to develop and implement new strategies to bolster the resiliency of the energy sector in the face of climate change. In support of these efforts, the CEC is investing in new scientific and technology solutions that can enable more targeted and effective planning and decision-making. One such solution is Cal-Adapt, which provides web-based access to curated and quality-controlled climate data. Users can access locally relevant information, visualization tools, and primary data to conduct research, develop adaptation plans and build their own applications.
Many of California’s forests have become degraded as a result of drought, diseases, and overgrowth of smaller vegetation from suppression of the naturally occurring fire cycles. These factors have triggered a tree mortality emergency: over one hundred million dead trees are at risk of being ignited in catastrophic wildfires. One climate-sensitive strategy to reduce wildfire risks posed by degraded forests is to convert dead trees and other biomass waste into energy and other commercial products such as soil amendments. However, current technological approaches to convert forest biomass have both technical and economic challenges that need to be overcome.
The CEC is supporting the development of advanced technologies capable of converting forest biomass into cost-competitive commercial products. This includes a project to develop a portable gasification technology that can be towed to remote forest locations and convert the biomass onsite into energy, avoiding the significant cost required to transport biomass to central processing plants.
Natural Gas Infrastructure Safety
High-profile events such as the San Bruno pipeline explosion (2010) and Aliso Canyon gas storage facility leak (2015) demonstrated vulnerabilities in the natural gas system. To address these concerns, the CEC is investing in new technology solutions to improve the safety and integrity of the natural gas infrastructure, including gas distribution pipeline, transmission pipeline and storage facilities. These technologies provide better solution for leak detection, damage prevention, risk assessment and hazard mitigation of natural gas systems. One CEC-funded project is helping to commercialize a platform solution that provides real-time visibility and notification to utilities and heavy-equipment operators when construction work is being conducted near natural gas pipelines. Widespread use of this technology could reduce non-fatal and non-injury excavation incidents by 43%.