Combating Wildfires in the Arctic: An Energy Resilience Approach

February 23, 2023

Dr. Payman Dehghanian

ECE Assistant Professor Payman Dehghanian and his team were awarded a $2.82M NSF contract for the project, “Foundations for Improving Resilience in the Energy Sector against Wildfires on Alaskan Lands (FIREWALL)”, a four-year multi-institutional multidisciplinary effort among GW, the University of Alaska at Anchorage, the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and Washington State University. The national effort is supported by the Navigating the New Arctic (NNA) program, one of NSF’s 10 Big Ideas that supports fundamental convergence research across the social, natural, environmental, engineering, and computing & information sciences. Alaska has witnessed high-intensity wildfires that are projected to increase due to climate change and present new and emerging risks to Alaskan energy infrastructure and communities needing electricity for daily life and services. Alaska is especially vulnerable to wildfires due to its isolated electricity grid, its fire-prone boreal forests, and extreme fire behavior, as well as the critical dependence of its rural communities on electricity for health and year-round food supply.

Prof. Dehghanian, the 2022 GW Office of Vice Provost for Research (OVPR)’s Early-Career Researcher award winner and the recipient of the 2021 Washington Academy of Sciences’ Early-Career Award and GW School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS)’s Outstanding Early-Career Researcher Award in 2022, conducts cutting-edge research on the main theme of enhancing the resilience of the nation’s electrical power delivery infrastructure against extremes. He works with a diverse team of researchers with seasoned expertise in electrical power systems engineering, energy law, decision sciences, social and environmental sciences, nursing and health to collaboratively design and develop next-generation solutions that ensure the resilience of both Alaskan energy infrastructure and communities against wildfires. The FIREWALL research project will aim to advance the knowledge on (1) how elements of the natural environment, energy infrastructure, and social systems interact with one another before, during, and following wildfires, and (2) how to enable collaborative decision-making and communications among multi-sectoral stakeholders to reduce wildfire risks faced by communities and electric utilities. Working hand in hand with a variety of stakeholders, this synergistic approach aims to build trust and empower the Arctic communities, electric utilities, emergency responders, and health organizations with a collaborative capacity to conjoin resources and exchange information for better situational awareness in response to wildfires.