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3.4.4. Heat waves and forest fires

Heat waves can also pose a risk to energy infrastructure. Heat waves can cause reduced structural integrity and chemical reactions in large power transformers used in thermal power plants that result in short circuits, power outages and costly repairs (Gao et al., 2018).

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Heat waves, combined with droughts, also increase the risk of forest fires. On the one hand, forest fires can damage energy infrastructure. On the other hand, electricity transmission infrastructure is an important ignition cause of forest fires (Camia et al., 2013). Box 3.2 presents a recent example from outside Europe with catastrophic human, social and economic consequences.

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Box 3.2 Energy infrastructure creating risks for public safety

California suffered from unprecedented wildfires in 2017 and in 2018 due to extremely warm, dry and windy conditions. Many of the fires in 2017 were found to have been caused by electric power and distribution lines, conductors and power poles owned by Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E). which sparked fires due to coming in contact with vegetation, sagging or other failure (CAL Fire, 2018a, 2018b). It is suspected that the 2018 Camp Fire, the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California’s history, was also caused by a faulty PG&E transmission tower (Gafni, 2018). Facing $7 billion in claims from the Camp Fire, PG&E, the largest energy utility in the USA, had to file for bankruptcy in January 2019 (Tsang, 2019).

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