The unfortunate California wildfires have made the state and the people rethink their traditional energy sources – gas and electric pipelines.
The leading energy company, Pacific Gas & Electric, faces a $30bn lawsuit for the loss of life and damage to property in the 1500 wildfires in 2 years, in California. There are new-found benefits to Rooftop solar offers the alternative of a distributed energy resource which requires significantly less dependence on the power lines which lead to the wildfires.
The thing with traditional gas and electricity sources is that the wiring is to be laid-out through acres of deserted land, even possibly forests, thereby increasing the vulnerability of mass destruction. That’s not all. Higher voltage cables need to be specially designed to minimize the chances of breaking down because of the voltage tunneling through the insulation. This increases both the cost and the potential danger of wires breaking.
Same is with utility-solar panels. A large number of solar panels are installed in a remote location. The long-distance transmission is still an important factor here which automatically increases liability.
Rooftop solar panels reduce the potential of a major crisis due to their lack of (or comparatively a lot less) abundantly laid-out wiring. Long distance transmission is not required with rooftop panels which is a major factor in the reduction of liability.
With the fall of PG&E, the difficult decisions on how and who was to take on the burden of powering a whole state were to be made. California seems to have figured out the how, though. It recently added rooftop solar panels to its list of approved building standards. And people are more than happy to install solar panels to their houses.
The gradual shift from complicated long-range wiring to essentially disaster proof solar panels was gladly accepted by the people of California. This also proves beneficial for the authorities considering the extensive financial losses suffered due to the recent wildfires.
PG&E may be looking at declaring bankruptcy to resolve the $30bn lawsuit but that only means that rooftop solar panels will be gaining value in the California energy sector.
What can we learn from this? While not all states or countries have to worry about wildfires as much as California, there are other threats to the classic model of generation, transmission, and distribution of energy. Long transmission lines have a high cost of maintenance, large uncertainty and time constraint when addressing outages while distributed energy (in this case rooftop solar) brings the generation to the consumer.