Disaster management: wildfires in california
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

California is likely in for a rough time as autumn approaches and the state reaches the peak of what is known as fire season.

Research from Stanford University predicts that this – and each subsequent fire season – will be drier, hotter, windier and subject to the conditions that will make fires – and natural disasters – more numerous.

More than 150 fatalities have been attributed to wildfires in California, with 2017 and 2018 being the deadliest seasons on record. In addition, fire suppression initiatives in that time exceeded $1.6 billion – with total losses as a result of the fires exceeding $40 billion.

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Efforts to control the fires in 2019 resulted in what was called the “Public Safety Power Shut-Off’ programme – in which power was shut off during periods of high wind or wildfire risk – an initiative which angered domestic and commercial customers as a result of the subsequent widespread power outages.

There are numerous reasons for the increased prevalence of fires say Stanford’s researchers – urban and suburban developments, the potential mismanagement of fire breaks and vegetation control, and in some cases, faulty electrical infrastructure.

While nobody wants to hear the C-word – climate change – the researchers are clear that they believe that the frequency and severity of the fires in California are largely due to climate-related issues. This has not only translated into hotter weather, but also impacted hydrology and rainfall, and resulted in drier vegetation. This is a potential recipe for (natural) disaster.

While there are many caveats to the research, it does mean that fire management for utilities – particularly in high-risk areas such as California – is going to become a high-risk responsibility. Not only will utilities need to rethink many of their existing vegetation management strategies, but risk mitigation strategies for managing the impacts of climate change will have to become a fundamental part of each utility’s long term plans.

Do you have any thoughts on how risk management and climate change will impact the utility business? What are the implications as more risk mitigation is factored into the utility business case – for consumers? For regulators and lawmakers? For utilities? As a utility professional, how do you believe climate change is going to impact your ability to manage your business and continue providing cost-effective power to consumers?

We’d love to hear your thoughts on these questions – and others which may have piqued your interest. You can either email us at editorial@smart-energy.com or check our LinkedIn post.

Wishing you a risk-free week!

Until next time
Claire

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