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Enhancing Resilience: How Microgrids and Backup Generators Saved Del Norte County During the Smith River Complex Wildfires

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Aniket Kumar's picture
Product Manager, Yokogawa Electric Corporation

Aniket is currently leading product management role and developing the next version of disruptive products for sustainability of multiple sectors and building success stories & new business...

  • Member since 2023
  • 50 items added with 13,313 views
  • Sep 18, 2023

This white paper discusses the remarkable response to the Smith River Complex wildfires in Del Norte County, California, in August 2023. When the fires threatened to cut off power supply to the county's 27,000 residents, Pacific Power, in collaboration with Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), initiated an unprecedented solution. By deploying large commercial generators and creating microgrids, they managed to restore power to the community in a matter of days, providing a critical lifeline during the wildfires. This case study sheds light on the importance of innovative solutions and the need for greater resilience in the face of climate change-driven disasters.

Del Norte County, one of California's most drought-stricken regions, faced a severe threat when the Smith River Complex wildfires ignited. The fires not only posed a danger to life and property but also jeopardized the county's power supply. This white paper delves into the swift and innovative response that ensured the community's access to electricity throughout this challenging period.


  • On August 18, 2023, the Smith River Complex wildfires spread rapidly, necessitating evacuations and shutting down a major roadway.
  • Pacific Power issued warnings about potential power disruptions as the fires approached, but the situation escalated faster than expected.

The Unprecedented Response:

  • With the transmission lines under threat, Pacific Power initiated a backup plan.
  • Large commercial generators were brought in, creating microgrids that could operate independently of the main power lines.
  • Collaboration with PG&E facilitated the deployment of dozens of generators.
  • Within a week, most residents had power restored without restrictions.
  • Backup power continued to run seamlessly until the main lines were re-energized nearly a month later.

Key Achievements:

  • Del Norte County experienced what appears to be the state's largest and longest-running microgrid operation powered by large generators.
  • This innovative solution helped limit damage from the wildfires and ensured essential services remained operational.
  • Local, state, federal, and utility officials collaborated effectively to restore power.
  • PG&E's investment in backup generators played a crucial role in ensuring power availability during emergencies.

Challenges and Future Considerations:

  • While the use of diesel generators was vital, it is not the most cost-effective or sustainable solution.
  • Native American tribes in neighboring Humboldt County are exploring more sustainable microgrids, which include solar, batteries, and natural gas.
  • Del Norte County is looking into long-term system upgrades, including new transmission lines and redundant infrastructure.

The response to the Smith River Complex wildfires in Del Norte County showcases the importance of quick thinking, collaboration, and innovative solutions in the face of climate change-induced disasters. While backup generators and microgrids proved invaluable, the community is now considering more sustainable options for the future. This incident underscores the need for increased resilience and preparedness across utilities to safeguard communities during emergencies in our changing climate.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Sep 18, 2023

I think for sure you'll be seeing this model get exported to other communities as the power grid shutoff become more common place and residents/leaders want to empower themselves to take more control of what's going on in their grid system to keep the lights on

Aniket Kumar's picture
Aniket Kumar on Sep 18, 2023

Yes, Matt. We will see more micro-disruption as the energy scarcity/issues occures. 

Aniket Kumar's picture
Thank Aniket for the Post!
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