About the Business

Electric Operations


Number of circuits where PG&E installed automated “intelligent” switches in 2012, dramatically reducing the amount of time it takes to restore power to customers

PG&E provides electric service to customers across Northern and Central California, keeping the lights on at their homes and businesses and helping to power California’s economy. To meet our commitment to deliver safe, reliable and affordable service, we are implementing a multi-year strategic plan aimed at modernizing our electric operations to better serve our customers.

As a result of this focused effort, PG&E reached record-setting levels of electric reliability in 2012, capping five consecutive years of improvement by reducing the time our customers spent without power to the lowest on record.

Enhancing Public Safety

In 2012, PG&E continued several programs to enhance electric system safety, including taking new, more aggressive measures to prevent downed electric wires. These include conducting infrared inspections of distribution lines, replacing splices and conductors, and dispatching engineers to inspect downed wires to identify the cause and actions to prevent a reoccurrence. Because vegetation accounts for about 40 percent of all wires down, we are also working to identify trees that are most likely to fall during a storm and then prune or remove them.

Despite a focused effort, we missed our 2012 target for downed power lines in large part due to storms late in the year. Reducing wires down will continue to be an area of focus in 2013 and beyond.

Manhole cover
New manhole covers are designed to stay in place during an electric incident.

Through mid-2013, PG&E has installed more than 2,000 advanced manhole covers that are safer in incidents involving underground equipment failures. The force created by some underground equipment failures can throw standard manhole covers into the air. The new covers are designed to open a few inches and vent gases safely while staying in place. They also prevent oxygen from rushing into belowground enclosures and potentially igniting a fire. (Watch a video on how the new manhole covers work.)

Modernizing Our Electric Operations

PG&E has made significant—and increasing—investments to modernize and improve the integrity of our core electric infrastructure, with upgrades across our extensive network of transmission and distribution wires, substations and other essential assets.

In 2012, we continued our focus on improving our least reliable circuits, increasing system automation and replacing or upgrading aging equipment. Key highlights included:

  • Targeted Circuit Program: In 2012, PG&E crews targeted 74 distribution circuits for upgrade based on their history of outages. Crews strengthened the circuits and used infrared technology to identify potential trouble spots so that stressed equipment could be repaired or replaced before it failed. By the end of 2013, PG&E expects to have upgraded more than 330 circuits in five years.
  • Intelligent Switches: PG&E installed automated “intelligent” switches on 122 circuits in 2012. This Smart Grid technology dramatically reduces the amount of time it takes to restore power to customers. Instead of waiting for a crew to arrive on scene to restore circuits manually, the new devices do it automatically, often within minutes. By the end of 2013, PG&E expects to have automated 400 of our 3,200 distribution circuits with this technology.
  • Rural Circuit Upgrades: Since 2010, PG&E has installed about 5,000 fuses and 500 reclosers on more than 600 of the worst-performing rural circuits to isolate service interruptions and minimize their impact on customers.
  • Substation Upgrades: Technicians have replaced and upgraded 138 substation transformers since 2010 to handle an increase in demand, improve equipment performance, or maintain or restore service when electricity needs to be rerouted. (Watch a video of PG&E upgrading its Embarcadero substation in San Francisco.)
Helicopter crews can work suspended in an aerial chair or be delivered to and from an electric transmission tower.

Through PG&E’s pioneering use of helicopters, we are able to upgrade the capacity and reliability of our high-voltage lines more efficiently, cost-effectively and with less impact to the environment. In fact, PG&E’s industry leading practices have become an essential tool for our daily operations. For example, in Sonoma County, helicopters hauled steel poles and other equipment to PG&E crews working in steep terrain, far from roads, to fight the corrosive effects of salty ocean air on our electric system. We also began a pilot project using helicopters to check hundreds of miles of electric distribution lines in several locations throughout our service area. This project entails using an infrared camera to detect “hot spots” where the system might require maintenance or repairs before an equipment failure can cause a customer outage.

Measuring Performance and Continuous Improvement

PG&E continued to make significant progress in electric reliability to benefit customers throughout our service area. In fact, in 2012, customers experienced the fewest minutes without electricity in PG&E’s recorded history. In addition, the number of service interruptions was the second lowest on record, just behind our 2011 performance.

PG&E and other electric utilities use standard measures for electric reliability:

  • The System Average Interruption Duration Index (SAIDI) measures the number of minutes over the year that the average customer is without power.
  • The Customer Average Interruption Duration Index (CAIDI) measures the average time it takes PG&E to restore power after an outage.
  • The System Average Interruption Frequency Index (SAIFI) measures the system-wide frequency of power interruptions per customer.

In 2012, the average time a PG&E customer was without power (SAIDI) was 131.5 minutes, a seven percent improvement over the prior year. And when the lights did go out for our customers, the wait time to get power restored, or CAIDI, was also shorter: average outage duration in 2012 was 10 percent less than in 2011. The frequency of power interruptions per customer (SAIFI) increased slightly in 2012 to 1.128, a three percent increase over 2011.

Benchmarking PG&E's Reliability Performance

TIP: Click on the items in the chart legend to selectively remove or restore chart data.

1 Beginning in 2012, in an effort to help ensure consistency with industry standards, PG&E included both planned and unplanned outages in setting targets and measuring performance for reliability; previously, planned outages were not included.

In addition to reducing the frequency and duration of interruptions, we are also focused on improving asset performance and implementing reliability improvements with system safety as the overarching priority.

Our work is driven by a multi-year strategic plan that builds on lessons learned and progress made, so we can continue to improve in seven key areas: public safety, employee safety, compliance, emergency preparedness, reliability, customer satisfaction and efficiency. Fundamental to our approach will be a sharp focus on continuous improvement, benchmarking our performance with other electric utility companies and identifying and adopting best practices.

Building a Smarter Grid

The Smart Grid is a modernized electric system that combines advanced communications and controls to create a responsive and resilient energy delivery network.

At PG&E, our Smart Grid vision is consistent with our strategy to introduce proven, sophisticated technology into the business to be able to better serve our customers. The ultimate goal is to create a flexible grid that:

  • Provides customers with greater visibility into their energy usage and empowers them to make informed energy-related choices;
  • Facilitates the integration of new energy sources into the grid (such as distributed generation and storage, rooftop solar and other energy market participants);
  • Provides utilities with data and IT capabilities that create significant new operational benefits, improving efficiency and cost effectiveness; and
  • Allows utilities to continue to operate the grid safely and deliver reliable, cost-effective electricity in the face of more complex and interdependent energy operations.
Smart grid
A smarter grid will enable PG&E to better serve our customers.

A Smart Grid holds the potential to transform the operations of our electric network and represents a fundamental change to the way PG&E uses technology to better serve its customers and operate its business.

The foundation of PG&E’s Smart Grid is the network of more than nine million electric and gas SmartMeter™ devices installed across our service area. The meters provide near real-time energy usage data to utilities and customers through digital communications. In 2012, PG&E completed an operations center to support PG&E’s SmartMeter™ network. The center is equipped to handle growth in the number of deployed meters, effectively monitor the increased amount of data communications from the meters and enable proactive reliability and availability management.

PG&E also remains focused on diligently testing and piloting new Smart Grid technologies on a small scale before deploying them more broadly. Doing so will help ensure that investments are beneficial for our customers and also advance California’s energy policy goals. Projects in 2012 included:

  • Trial programs to provide customers with energy usage information via in-home displays.
  • Using SmartMeter™-enabled Home Area Networks and new internet and smartphone-enabled thermostats to help customers control their energy bills.
  • A grid-scale battery pilot at PG&E’s Vaca Dixon substation to test the integration of large battery energy storage into grid operations.
  • A cyber security initiative focused on anticipating, preventing and responding to a new and emerging class of cyber and physical threats.

PG&E’s San Ramon Technology Center houses a variety of technical labs and a wide array of specialized equipment, much of it dedicated to testing Smart Grid technologies. At the site, employees have researched and tested intelligent switches, electric vehicle chargers, wireless Home Area Networks (which link SmartMeter™ devices to electric appliances), home energy displays, smart thermostats and related equipment.

Looking forward, the Electric Program Investment Charge (EPIC) program will enable PG&E to work with the other California investor-owned utilities and the California Energy Commission to develop Smart Grid technology demonstration and deployment programs. In 2012, PG&E proposed its plan to the California Public Utilities Commission to use $49 million to fund 26 electricity research and development projects and programs.

EPIC projects include leveraging the SmartMeter™ technology platform to improve customer service and offerings, demonstrating energy storage technologies for renewables integration, integrating and analyzing large datasets to optimize asset risk management and designing the grid operations center of the future. Other projects relate to electric vehicles—from demonstrating their potential use as a resource to improve grid power quality and reduce customer outages to developing a mapping tool that allows drivers to find preferred fast-charging locations.

In 2013, the CPUC approved three pilot projects that will demonstrate Smart Grid technologies that can be used to increase reliability, reduce costs, reduce environmental impacts of electric system operation and more effectively integrate distributed renewable generation on PG&E’s distribution system. A fourth pilot will evaluate whether more granular sources of data can be used to improve accuracy of demand forecasts.