OAKLAND, Calif. — With an ever-expanding network of weather stations across its service area, Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) is positioned to refine the scope of Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) events and prepare for increasingly common severe weather events.
More than 200 new weather stations have been installed this year alone; six of those are in Alameda and Contra Costa counties. PG&E plans to have a total of 1,300 by the end of 2021. This will equip the company with one weather station for every 20-line miles of electric distribution circuits within Tier 2 and Tier 3 High Fire-Threat Districts, as designated by the California Public Utilities Commission.
Data captured by the weather stations such as temperature, wind speed and humidity levels help PG&E meteorologists evaluate where severe weather may be headed and inform utility operational planning. During a PSPS, PG&E turns off specific power lines, based on severe weather conditions, for public safety. This is to prevent tree branches and other debris from contacting energized power lines.
“We know that losing power disrupts lives, especially for our customers with medical needs. That is why we are finding ways to reduce the impact of PSPS events without compromising safety. The sole focus of a PSPS is to keep our customers safe,” said Mark Quinlan, Vice President of PSPS Operations and Execution.
Since 2018, PG&E has installed more than 1,200 weather stations mostly across high fire-threat areas in Northern and Central California. There are nearly 70 weather stations in the East Bay, with the newest one installed today in Castro Valley.
“Observations from the weather stations contribute to the improvement of our predictive capabilities for PSPS events. We now have a historical database of these observations, many in remote areas where we have never had this level of detailed data before, and it is now used to help fine-tune our models to better predict when critical fire weather conditions may occur,” said Ashley Helmetag, Senior PG&E Meteorologist. “As the model is improved, the forecast becomes more accurate, allowing meteorologists to limit the scope of PSPS events to the areas where the riskiest fire weather conditions are expected, and to do so with higher confidence.”
These new weather stations across PG&E’s service territory are now sending hyperlocal data not only to PG&E meteorologists, but also to analysts and experts in PG&E’s Wildfire Safety Operations Center (WSOC). The WSOC is the hub where PG&E detects, evaluates, monitors, and responds to wildfire threats across its service area. The information from these stations is also viewable by the public at pge.com/weather and is combined with other weather station information and shared with partners through MesoWest.
Weather stations are just one part of PG&E’s Community Wildfire Safety Program. The program also includes the installation of hundreds of sectionalizing devices to break the grid into smaller pieces and hardening hundreds of miles of lines, poles, and other infrastructure to reduce wildfire risk and lessen the effects of PSPS events on customers.
Coupled with PG&E’s growing network of weather data, temporary generation and microgrids, these tools and technologies helped keep the lights on for hundreds of thousands of customers during the PSPS events in 2020, as compared to those events in 2019.
PG&E, 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.