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Grid Safety: From Wildfire Mitigation to Extreme Event Resiliency

It’s no secret that climate change is increasing the quantity, size, duration, and severity of adverse weather events. Canadian officials labelled 2023 as the worst wildfire season for the country on record. Unfortunately, similar sentiments can be shared about the rest of the world. In recent years, fires have ravaged Australia, Hawaii, Greece, and Algeria – to sadly name but a few – pointing to an alarming increase. Arguably, the striking growth in these extreme events is linked to changing climate conditions. Heat waves, for instance, can make a wildfire season last longer than average, and fires are also erupting in areas that previously hadn’t seen them due to drought and rising temperatures. And with fires emitting CO2, a vicious cycle is created. Not only is this sounding major alarm bells, but it’s also necessitating innovation.

A wake-up call for action: how can the grid help?
The reality is that times are changing, and we need to collectively be more vigilant than ever before. The power and energy industry has a significant role to play, and it’s important that there is growing attention being given to wildfire mitigation and other related (and unrelated) safety aspects, and it is evident that organizations are placing needed emphasis on such topics. A California-based utility, for example, published a report in June 2023 in which wildfires were featured as a key research and development theme with its own chapter. Other utilities also have wildfire mitigation guides and more robust safety protocols in general.

There is no shying away from the notion that the grid is in an interesting position. The world is seeing massive development and growth in infrastructure. With this growth, we’re seeing more and more overhead lines and transmission cables sometimes passing through areas of vegetation, creating perfect conditions to potentially ignite a fire. As a result, safety and resiliency are at the top of the agenda for our industry.

Grid safety has always been a priority – from cybersecurity threats to physical hazards (extreme or not). One of the key initiatives of developing the grid of the future is making the grid more safe and more resilient, and the pathway is two-fold. On one side we have the construction of policy, such as wildfire prevention strategies at a business level. Here, collaboration is absolutely critical, and we need to continue working with utilities on the challenges facing our industry. Furthermore, we are constantly looking for ways to improve our product and solution offering. The grid requires hardening for safe operations – innovation is a key ingredient in designing a safer network.

How GE Vernova's Grid Solutions business can help
Our fire mitigation solutions put protecting people and property at the forefront. Our GridNode High-Speed Falling Conductor Protection solution detects and isolates broken overhead line conductors before they hit the ground, reducing the risk of fire ignition. I’m proud to work alongside many peers with vast expertise in this space.

Avoiding asset damage and/or failure and ensuring safety while providing reliable power is a requisite of every global utility. Analytical approaches and advanced solutions can and will enable the industry to make data-driven decisions and take action to safeguard the grid, and consequently, the planet.

About the Author

Dr. Mital Kanabar is the Senior Director of Innovation at GE Vernova’s Grid Solutions’ Grid Automation business in Toronto, Canada. He has more than 15 years of power industry R&D experience, holds more than 20 international patent applications, and has published more than 50 articles. Mital is also serves as a Chair and Vice-Chair of three Working Groups at the IEEE PES Power System Relaying Committee. Mital focuses on customer-centric innovations and collaboration to accelerate Technology Readiness Levels and validate Cost-Benefit Analysis. He has led R&D efforts in digital substation and software systems, renewables integration algorithms, synchrophasor applications, distributed energy resources, and microgrids. He holds a Ph.D. from Western University and degrees in electrical engineering from Sardar Patel University and the Indian Institute of Technology.

Profile Photo of Mital Kanabar