Electric Utility Asset Management and Wildfire Risk Mitigation

Wildfires ignite more easily, burn more intensely, and spread faster when wildland fuels are desiccated by extended dry spells. Electric utilities face increased risk of an equipment failure starting a catastrophic wildfire, especially in the western United States. With this increased risk, regulatory bodies like the California Public Utilities Commission are requiring the utilities industry to compile risk/consequence studies that include the impact of climate change on wildfire hazards.

With technical expertise in the ecological and environmental sciences, industrial hygiene, and electrical, thermal, civil, structural, and materials and corrosion engineering, Exponent can help clients reduce wildfire risk by quantifying the probability of failure of transmission structures as a function of wind speed within a given high fire-threat zone. Our degradation modeling work helps utilities predict when specific assets may reach threshold strength levels and require replacement. We can also predict fire growth over time under site-specific conditions, so that clients can evaluate the risk of catastrophic fire in a given area during specific meteorological events. Our damage assessments help clients better manage their assets by evaluating the extent of fire damage to equipment, enabling the repair and replacement of assets to reduce the likelihood of failure or electrical arcing. In addition, Exponent’s origin and cause investigations help our clients evaluate the physical evidence obtained during wildfire investigations and litigation; understand the potential consequences of wildfires, such as landslides; assess natural resource recovery; and mitigate future litigation risks.
Exponent’s team of asset management and wildfire experts offers the following services:

  • Quantitative, predictive asset management/grid hardening that incorporates climate change
  • Wildfire consequence modeling
  • Assessment of ignition hazards created by climate change
  • Asset degradation modeling and fire, smoke, and particulate damage assessments
  • Wildfire prevention and mitigation counseling based on the national standards on wildfire prevention (e.g., National Fire Protection Association) to help utilities identify potential hazards and develop recommendations to prevent or mitigate wildfire disasters
  • Wildfire risk assessments for improved asset management by helping utilities perform failure modes and effects analyses on electrical assets, including transmission and distribution structures
  • Operability assessments to assess overhead power transmission assets during high wind events and enable risk-informed operational assessment and asset management strategies, reducing the risk of wildland fire ignitions
  • Fire origin and cause assessments
  • Assessment of ecological and environmental impacts from wildfires, assess the natural resource recovery, and develop recommendations for ecological restoration.

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