Wine Country fires: Could a better power grid save us?

California’s outdated power poles and lines need upgrading, say critics

By LISA M. KRIEGER | The Mercury News Link to article

People walk past fallen transformers along Parker Hill Road in Santa Rosa, Calif. on Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)

California’s first power pole was erected in the 1880s, soon after Thomas Edison’s light bulb. Now we have 4.2 million of them, carrying a spider web of fickle and fire-triggering lines that hang in drooping catenaries for 210,000 miles — enough to wrap around the world eight times.

With downed power lines now under scrutiny as the suspected source of the devastating Wine Country fires, many experts say the country’s electrical grid is due for a costly overhaul, making it safer and more reliable in our increasingly digital world.

“The future is electric. Improvements have been too slow,” said electrical engineer Massoud Amin, director of the Technological Leadership Institute in Minnesota, who studies safe infrastructures.

The obvious solutions include undergrounding more wires or better insulating them, in addition to retiring old wooden poles. We could also turn off power during dangerous weather, or install new tech tools to detect incipient line failure. (Link to article)