As peak wildfire season nears, PG&E deploys innovative technologies to enable layers of protection to mitigate wildfires
From Advanced Drones and Remote Power Grids to Undergrounding Powerlines using Innovative Methods and Launching a Moon Shot for Wildfire Detection and Suppression, Today's Event Displays a Wide Range of Innovations
SAN RAMON, Calif. - Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) is deploying innovative and emerging technologies, including a remotely-operated controlled-burn system, next-generation drones, and wireless remote grids, building upon the proven layers of protection that are reducing wildfire risk from its equipment by 94% (based on established methodologies) in 2023 to help keep its customers and hometowns safe.
"Our system has never been safer, and we continue to make it safer every day. We're prepared with multiple layers of protection and innovative new technologies to mitigate catastrophic wildfires in our hometowns. We want a future where our customers don't have to choose between safety and reliability—we want both and we are working every day to make that possible," said Sumeet Singh, PG&E executive vice president and chief operating officer.
Several innovations and collaborations were on display today at two PG&E facilities – the San Ramon Valley Conference Center and PG&E's Applied Technology Services Center, the company's hub of research, development, and innovation. The selected technologies included:
- Neither Overhead Nor Underground: With novel Ground-Level Distribution Systems (GLDS), powerlines are neither suspended from utility poles nor buried underground. Instead, lines are placed inside protected and resilient conduits that rest on the ground. PG&E is exploring moving overhead powerlines to ground level to eliminate ignition risk and enhance grid resilience. PG&E anticipates this innovative approach could provide comparable risk reduction to undergrounding.
- Fighting Fire with "Good" Fire: South San Francisco-based Burnbot offers a remotely operated, controlled-burn technology to manage landscapes and burn woody materials onsite to reduce environmental and safety issues associated with controlled burns. PG&E is testing Burnbot as an alternative to traditional land management techniques (such as using herbicides or mowers) around its facilities to clear vegetation and to explore the potential environmental and safety benefits and determine opportunities to scale.
- Next-Gen Drones: Automated and beyond visual line-of-sight drone operations in collaboration with San Mateo-based Skydio are helping to determine how these tools can augment today's manually operated drone asset inspections and provide a fast, safe, and effective solution for field-validating a range of sensor alerts.
- Remote microgrids for local resiliency: To enhance local resilience and eliminate fire risk, PG&E recently deployed three new remote grid systems in Tehama and Mariposa counties with several more anticipated for deployment in 2023 and up to 30 to be deployed by 2026 in collaboration with Richmond, Calif.-based NewSunRoad. Locally sited solar, batteries and back-up generators provide the same or better level of electric service reliability while serving as a permanent alternative to poles and powerlines.
- First-of-its-Kind Easy-Connect Backup Power: PG&E has successfully developed a first-of-its-kind personal backup power transfer meter device for customers that fully integrates into PG&E's existing electric SmartMeter system. The device provides customers with a safe, easy to use and more reliable solution for interconnecting backup power sources, such as portable generators, batteries, and qualified electric vehicles, to power essential devices and appliances during a power outage. PG&E has installed more than 1,500 backup power transfer meters for customers in high-fire risk areas since 2022 and plans to install thousands more through 2025. PG&E demonstrated using the on-board generator of an all-electric Ford F-150 Lightning to power devices through the backup power transfer meter.
- Detecting a Fault, Cutting Off Power: PG&E's Enhanced Powerline Safety Settings, which shut power off in one-tenth of a second or less when contact with a foreign object or a fault occurs on a powerline, reduced ignitions by 68% last year in High Fire-Risk Areas. Watch a similar version of the demonstration performed today: PG&E Engineers Use Laboratory to Stress Test EPSS Technology - PGE Currents. Building upon the operational mitigations of EPSS, PG&E is also deploying additional layers of operational mitigations including new downed conductor and partial voltage detection technology to detect potential threats to the electric grid and rapidly reduce or shut off power to help mitigate wildfire ignitions.
- Downed Conductor Detection (DCD) technology improves PG&E's ability to detect and isolate high impedance faults—lower-current fault conditions that may not reliably be mitigated by EPSS—before an ignition can occur. PG&E is engineering, programming and installing the DCD algorithm on equipment in high fire-risk areas.
- Partial Voltage Detection capabilities utilize SmartMeters to alert PG&E's Control Center when voltage conditions that could present an increased ignition risk are detected. This technology helps PG&E detect and locate wire-down conditions for lower-current fault conditions—which may not reliably be mitigated by EPSS—within minutes so the line can be remotely de-energized from the Control Center for faster mitigation and to reduce the amount of time a line is energized while down.
- A Moon Shot for Wildfire Detection: Detect and suppress a high-risk wildfire in 10 minutes or less. Pinpoint all fire ignitions across multiple states or countries from space in 60 seconds. These are the challenges for innovators of XPRIZE Wildfire, a four-year, $11 million competition aimed at developing innovative technologies to improve the detection and suppression of destructive wildfires. As co-title sponsor, PG&E believes the competition can be a game changer.
Learn more about PG&E's wildfire mitigation innovation efforts in the emerging technology chapter of PG&E's 2023-2025 Wildfire Mitigation Plan.
Pacific Gas and Electric Company, a subsidiary of PG&E Corporation (NYSE:PCG), is a combined natural gas and electric utility serving more than 16 million people across 70,000 square miles in Northern and Central California. For more information, visit pge.com and pge.com/news.