January 20, 2020
Staff Accomplishment

PNNL’s Carl Imhoff addresses U.S. Senate Committee Regarding Wildfires and Power Grid Challenges

Imhoff tells committee the national laboratories can help with wildfire mitigation and grid resilience

Carl Imhoff addresses U.S. Senate Committee

Carl Imhoff (second from right at table) testified to the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on reducing wildfire impacts and improving grid resilience.

The U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources invited Carl Imhoff, manager of PNNL’s Electricity Infrastructure sector, to speak at a December 19 hearing on the impacts of wildfires on electric grid reliability and efforts to mitigate wildfire risk and increase grid resilience.

The committee was gathering information on how wildfire mitigation technology, forest management, and advances in grid resilience could reduce the severity and impacts of the 2020 wildfire season. Imhoff was one of five industry experts who testified. Other speakers included professors and utility industry leaders.

Imhoff leads grid research at PNNL and serves as the chair of the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Grid Modernization Laboratory Consortium. For more than two decades, PNNL has supported power system reliability, innovation, and resilience for Washington State, the Pacific Northwest, and the United States.

The DOE and utility industry partners have been working together to identify current national laboratory capabilities that can address the wildfire challenges. While most DOE investments are in research and development, Imhoff informed the committee of capabilities and tools that can be positioned to support the 2020 wildfire season and beyond.

“The utility industry expressed particular interest in DOE expertise in satellite and drone imagery to conduct damage assessment and situational awareness of fire risk,” Imhoff said. “They also seek advanced technology to detect and protect against imminent failure.”

PNNL is currently evaluating an analytic tool it developed at two Washington State watersheds that uses aerial imagery to map biomass for fuel load, vegetation type, and moisture content. This data will assist land managers, utilities, and emergency responders in identifying and assessing wildfire risks. Other tools being assessed are in the fields of sensing and measurement, extreme event planning, and real-time grid operational and emergency support.

“We must turn our attention to what can be done to harden our energy infrastructure and improve the resiliency of our grid in high fire-risk areas during these extreme weather conditions,” said Energy and Natural Resources Chair Lisa Murkowski. “This is a complex problem that is going to require collaboration at all levels in partnership with the electric industry.”

Published: January 20, 2020