San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) is unveiling its latest wildfire mitigation and resiliency advancements while urging its customers to prepare for possible wildfires and Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS) during the region’s Santa Ana wind season, which is typically between September and December.
Wildfire season is now year-round in California, however, the risk for wildfires in Southern California especially increases when seasonal Santa Ana winds become more active. This time of year is referred to as peak wildfire season.
“Just one wildfire could significantly impact the health and safety of our customers, which is why our team works so hard to strengthen our electrical grid to help reduce the risk of wildfires and the impacts of Public Safety Power Shutoffs in our high fire threat areas,” said SDG&E CEO Caroline Winn. “This work also benefits our entire region in that it helps to defend against other extreme weather conditions as we build a smart energy grid of the future that can support the clean energy transition.”
Over the last decade, SDG&E has made significant improvements to its electric infrastructure to help mitigate the impacts of PSPS on its customers and withstand extreme weather conditions. This year alone, the company plans to underground nearly 50 miles of power lines and install additional sectionalizing devices, which are intended to limit the size of outages by isolating faults, on its overhead power lines. When combined, these efforts will help reduce PSPS impacts to more than 7,000 customers in some of the highest risk areas.
Additionally, SDG&E has a total of seven microgrids that are already in use, or under construction. These microgrids will help keep communities and critical facilities like fire stations, schools and public safety infrastructure such as CAL FIRE’s Air Attack Base in Ramona energized during outages and Public Safety Power Shutoffs. Because these facilities can operate without needing to be connected to the larger energy grid, communities and emergency responders will continue to have access to critical resources during a planned or unplanned outage.
Since 2020, SDG&E has also completed the following infrastructure enhancements:
- Strategically undergrounded more than 70 miles of the riskiest overhead infrastructure
- Hardened more than 430 miles of overhead power lines, including wood-to-steel pole replacements
- Upgraded more than 40 miles of power lines with covered wires, which provide additional protection for the line from falling debris
- Deployed Falling Conductor Protection technology, which deenergizes a power line before it hits the ground, in select areas at most risk for wildfires
“We’ve made significant strides in strengthening our electric infrastructure, but that’s only part of the equation,” said SDG&E Vice President of Wildfire and Climate Science, Brian D’Agostino. “To be as strategic and surgical as possible when it comes to turning off someone’s power, we really have to understand the weather, the climate and the wildfire risk in very specific areas of our service territory.”
Over the last 10 years, the company has developed a state-of-the-art situational awareness network, which includes pan-tilt-zoom cameras that enable smoke detection technology, more than 220 weather stations, artificial intelligence modeling and satellite imagery. This year SDG&E will continue improving its network of weather stations and further expand the number of hilltop cameras, some of which are in new locations that allow its in-house meteorology team to predict weather more accurately in areas that are at risk for wildfires. The company is also installing air quality sensors to better understand the impacts of wildfire smoke on the health and safety of its customers and employees. SDG&E has also leveraged aerial drones to inspect its powerlines in areas with the highest wildfire risk along with machine learning to enhance its ability to detect issues on powerlines.
The data pulled from this network allows SDG&E to strategically time and initiate PSPS to reduce customer impacts as much as possible. The information also allows the company to strengthen its electric grid in priority areas to further reduce PSPS impacts and the overall risk of wildfires.
Because the safety of our customers, employees and the communities we serve is our highest priority, SDG&E may initiate a PSPS as a last resort preventative measure to help protect our communities from wildfires. The decision to initiate a PSPS is informed by a combination of factors including wind speeds, humidity levels, field observations by SDG&E crews, vegetation moisture and information from fire agencies. If these factors threaten SDG&E’s ability to safely operate the electric system, power may be temporarily shut off. While SDG&E is doing everything in its power to prepare for high fire-risk weather, preparing our region is a whole community effort.
"We recognize that community preparedness takes all of us working together and strengthening our partnerships with trusted community-based organizations, such as 211 San Diego and Orange County, the Red Cross and the South Bay Fire Academy helps us broaden our reach and provide people with the information, tools and resources they need to remain resilient," said D’Agostino.
SDG&E continues to forge strong partnerships with Community Based Organizations, Non-Governmental Organizations, local governments and Public Safety Partners. These partnerships help the company provide information, tools and resources to more customers prior to, during and following a PSPS.
Most recently, SDG&E has made accessibility enhancements to its PSPS website and PSPS mobile app, and the company has released its own Alexa skill which offers real-time notifications, including weather forecasts, fire potential, PSPS information, Community Resource Center locations and State flex alert information through the Amazon Alexa voice assistant using any Alexa device or the Alexa app.
From strengthening the electric grid, to improving its situational awareness, to supporting its customers during PSPS and extreme weather, SDG&E remains as committed as ever to the health, safety, and resiliency of its customers, employees and the communities it serves.
“At SDG&E, our culture is to be better today than we were yesterday, and that is what drives us to work tirelessly to reduce the chance of a wildfire and the devastating impacts to communities,” said Winn. “We recognize there is still much work to be done and it cannot be done alone.”
In advance of peak Santa Ana wind season, SDG&E recommends customers update their account contact information via My Account and download the Alerts by SDG&E mobile app to receive PSPS alerts. For additional PSPS information including Community Resource Centers, notification timelines, resources and more, visit SDGE.com/PSPS. The company also advises customers to develop a plan to prepare for a PSPS or wildfire. More information on how to prepare can be found at SDGE.com/wildfire-emergency-preparedness.
SDG&E is an innovative San Diego-based energy company that provides clean, safe and reliable energy to better the lives of the people it serves in San Diego and southern Orange counties. The company is committed to creating a sustainable future by providing its electricity from renewable sources; modernizing natural gas pipelines; accelerating the adoption of electric vehicles; supporting numerous non-profit partners; and, investing in innovative technologies to ensure the reliable operation of the region’s infrastructure for generations to come. SDG&E is a subsidiary of Sempra (NYSE: SRE). For more information, visit SDGEnews.com or connect with SDG&E on Twitter (@SDGE), Instagram (@SDGE) and Facebook.