Twin Setbacks for Tidal

More competitive market in green energy takes toll

1 min read
Twin Setbacks for Tidal

PG&E has announced it's ditching, at least for now, a 5 MW tidal energy project that had been slated for the coast of Humboldt County in northern California. The utility cited excessively high investment costs--including $50 million just to cover transmission infrastructure--and absence of any potential for physical expansion. Pacific Gas & Electric cancelled another plan for a tidal project in northern California last year but is continuing to pursue one near Santa Barbara.

So far, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has issued just one license for a tidal project in the United States, and that one is dormant, the owner having surrendered it after failing to raise funds, according to Energy Central's Ucilia Wang.

The bad news on the U.S. side of the pond pales, however, with the recent news from the UK. The British government said two weeks ago it was giving up plans for a giant tidal plant to be built across the Severn estuary that cuts into southwestern England north of the Wales peninsula. The gigantic 8 GW facility consisting of 214 4o MW turbines would have been gigantically expensive to build: 20 billion pounds according to its promoters, more like 34 billion according to the British government--which said the project had turned out to be too risky and too expensive compared to other sources of low-carbon electricity.,

Scotland's 10 billion pound tidal challenge remains very much active, but England's decision does cast serious doubt on whether Scotland will ever generate 25 percent of the UK's electricity, as the Scots claim they could do.

Concurrently with the Severn decision, the British government approved eight sites for construction of new nuclear power plants.

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Smokey the AI

Smart image analysis algorithms, fed by cameras carried by drones and ground vehicles, can help power companies prevent forest fires

7 min read
Smokey the AI

The 2021 Dixie Fire in northern California is suspected of being caused by Pacific Gas & Electric's equipment. The fire is the second-largest in California history.

Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

The 2020 fire season in the United States was the worst in at least 70 years, with some 4 million hectares burned on the west coast alone. These West Coast fires killed at least 37 people, destroyed hundreds of structures, caused nearly US $20 billion in damage, and filled the air with smoke that threatened the health of millions of people. And this was on top of a 2018 fire season that burned more than 700,000 hectares of land in California, and a 2019-to-2020 wildfire season in Australia that torched nearly 18 million hectares.

While some of these fires started from human carelessness—or arson—far too many were sparked and spread by the electrical power infrastructure and power lines. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) calculates that nearly 100,000 burned hectares of those 2018 California fires were the fault of the electric power infrastructure, including the devastating Camp Fire, which wiped out most of the town of Paradise. And in July of this year, Pacific Gas & Electric indicated that blown fuses on one of its utility poles may have sparked the Dixie Fire, which burned nearly 400,000 hectares.

Until these recent disasters, most people, even those living in vulnerable areas, didn't give much thought to the fire risk from the electrical infrastructure. Power companies trim trees and inspect lines on a regular—if not particularly frequent—basis.

However, the frequency of these inspections has changed little over the years, even though climate change is causing drier and hotter weather conditions that lead up to more intense wildfires. In addition, many key electrical components are beyond their shelf lives, including insulators, transformers, arrestors, and splices that are more than 40 years old. Many transmission towers, most built for a 40-year lifespan, are entering their final decade.

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