With 119 weather stations and 88 fire-watch cameras in operation throughout Northern California, Pacific Gas and Electric Company has helped reduce the size of Public Safety Power Shutoff events in the area by an average of 55 percent.
According to a release issued by the utility, these weather stations – along with sectionalizing devices that isolate the grid into smaller segments and deployment of temporary generation and microgrids – enabled PG&E to keep the lights on for thousands of customers who would have lost power during comparable weather events in 2019.
“As a real-time situational awareness tool, we’re able to use our high-density weather observation network at the start of a PSPS event to assess if forecasted critical fire weather conditions are materializing or not,” said Ashley Helmetag, PG&E senior meteorologist. “In a PSPS event, if the conditions are not materializing above risk thresholds, then we’re able to use this data as a one of our decision-making support tools to significantly shrink or eliminate an area that was originally in scope for power shut off.”
Currently PG&E’s local network of weather technology includes 11 stations and two cameras in Colusa County, six stations and six cameras in Glenn County and 19 stations and 12 cameras in Tehama County.
Several other stations and cameras are in operation in surrounding counties as well, including Butte, Sutter, Yuba, Lassen, Plumas, Shasta and Trinity.
These advancements, which provide more precise weather data to the company’s team of meteorologists and outside agencies, allowed the utility to remove more than 800,000 customers from scope during 2020 PSPS events, it was stated in the release.
“We are working every day to improve the safety of our electric system and reduce wildfire risks,” said Debbie Powell, PG&E’s interim head of Electric Operations. “In addition to preventing wildfires, our focus is on improving weather awareness and reducing the impact of public safety power outages on customers and communities. Our growing network of weather stations and high-definition cameras helps PG&E meteorologists and analysts do just that.”
According to the release, PG&E has been adding to its network of weather stations and cameras since 2018, mostly in high fire-threat areas in Northern and Central California.
“The program, which plans to install 1,300 weather stations by the end of 2021, is designed to create a density of roughly one weather station for every 20 miles of electric lines in high fire-threat areas,” it was stated in the release.
By the end of 2022, PG&E plans to have nearly 600 cameras installed and, when complete, PG&E expects to have the ability to see in real-time roughly 90 percent of the high fire-risk areas serviced by the utility.