Technology from half a world away could bring some relief to parts of the Bay Area and Northern California served by PG&E.
PG&E is testing technology already being piloted in Australia that would de-energize a power line that falls and comes into contact with something like a tree limb or the ground.
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"The project seeks to demonstrate the benefits of what's called Rapid Earth Fault Limiter Technology," said Paul Doherty, a spokesman with PG&E.
The goal is to prevent the ignition of a wildfire, like the kind that have caused so much destruction in Northern California in recent years.
"We see this as having potential benefits of significantly lowering the energy in a single line to ground faults," explained Doherty. "Now that means a wire down event."
PG&E engineers are currently testing the REFCL system at its facility in San Ramon. The utility hopes to carry that testing out to the field next year by installing it at its substation in Calistoga.
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If successful, the REFCL technology could be deployed throughout PG&E's system in the coming years, perhaps reducing the need for expansive Public Safety Power Shutoffs in future high wind situations.
"One thing I think is important to understand about distribution systems is that they are all different," said Sascha von Meier, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science at U.C. Berkeley.
"They're really idiosyncratic and that's why there has to be a lot of research and testing on these different technologies in the particular context where they're going to be deployed, because it's not going to be the same in Australia or the U.S., or even on different distribution circuits within PG&E's territory."
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