Electric Operations

40%Improvement since 2006 in average duration of service interruptions

PG&E’s responsibility is to make sure that electric service is there when customers need it—day or night, rain or shine. To meet that goal, we are investing significant resources to modernize our electric operations, including upgrading the grid, developing more efficient and effective operating practices, and giving our employees the training and skills they need to deliver safe, reliable and affordable service.

Our Approach

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, workforce safety, compliance, emergency preparedness, reliability, customer satisfaction and efficiency. Fundamental to our approach is a sharp focus on continuous improvement, benchmarking our performance with other electric utility companies and identifying and adopting best practices.

To improve reliability, we are focused on maintaining and replacing aging equipment, making targeted asset upgrades, and using new technology to monitor and restore power.

A major focus of our operations is preventing downed electric wires. We are approaching this work in several ways, 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 recurrence. 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.

In a remote area of Humboldt County, members of California’s largest Native American tribe received power for the first time. A project 10 years in the making, PG&E partnered with the Yurok tribe to establish electric service on reservation land.

(Photo by David Kligman)

2013 Milestones

In 2013, we completed a three-year effort to improve electric service for customers by focusing on reducing both the frequency and duration of customer outages. The program centered on three areas:

  • Installed intelligent switches. We installed automated “intelligent” switches on more than 500 electric distribution circuits by the end of 2013—avoiding more than 230,000 customer interruptions. 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.
  • Upgraded rural circuits. We installed more than 5,000 sets of fuses and 500 line reclosers (circuit breakers that can automatically close after they have been opened due to a fault) on more than 440 of the most outage-prone rural circuits since 2010 to isolate service interruptions and minimize their impact on customers. This new equipment resulted in a 33 percent reduction in the number of customers experiencing sustained outages from 2010 performance levels.
  • Enhanced substations and circuit interconnectivity. We replaced and upgraded substation equipment and added circuit capacity to maintain or restore service when electricity needs to be rerouted during an outage. These upgrades also enable our system to handle increases in demand, such as on hot summer days.

Here’s a look at some other highlights from 2013:

  • Invested in our system. We announced a $1.2 billion investment in electric and gas upgrades in San Francisco’s infrastructure over the next five years. The projects encompass new and ongoing infrastructure work, including building new high-voltage electric lines that will improve disaster resiliency and upgrading electrical substations.
  • Modernized our facilities. We broke ground on three new electric distribution control centers that will house new smart grid technology. Located in Fresno, Concord and Rocklin, these facilities will monitor and control thousands of miles of electric distribution lines that deliver electricity to millions of customers. The facility in Fresno is scheduled to open later in 2014, and the control centers in Concord and Rocklin are scheduled to open in 2015.
  • Demonstrated innovation. PG&E crews took to the skies for aerial patrols in Kern County to inspect overhead distribution lines over farmland and other rural areas. Using helicopters to survey power lines allows inspectors to get to places that are often difficult to access, while reducing environmental impacts.

PG&E completed a three-year effort to improve electric service for customers.

Measuring Progress

In 2013, our customers experienced the fewest service interruptions in PG&E’s history, and the average length of an outage for our customers fell to an all-time low.

The average time a PG&E customer was without power (SAIDI) was 116.8 minutes, an 11 percent improvement over the prior year. And when the lights did go out for our customers, the wait time to get power restored (CAIDI) was also shorter: at 109.4, average outage duration in 2013 was six percent less than in 2012. The frequency of power interruptions per customer (SAIFI) dropped to 1.067, five percent less than 2012.

Benchmarking PG&E’s Reliability Performance
  • 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.

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

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

PG&E delivered record electric reliability in 2013, as customers experienced the fewest service interruptions in PG&E’s history.

Looking Ahead

Building on the concept of the “internet of things”—which has become a catchphrase to describe the future network connectivity of our daily lives—PG&E envisions building a “grid of things” that allows all of the pieces of the digital world to work together.

At its heart, the future grid will provide solutions for our customers in a way that meets their needs. The concept includes a grid that seamlessly combines rooftop solar with battery storage and consumer mobile applications. It is one that improves energy efficiency by making it more sophisticated and automated. It is also a grid that gives utilities greater visibility into operations to improve reliability, and balances renewable energy sources with conventional sources such as natural gas and nuclear energy.

A foundational component of this future is the network of nearly 10 million electric and gas SmartMeter™ devices installed across our service area. The electric meters provide near real-time energy usage data to utilities and customers through digital communications.

Building this future requires that utilities are ever mindful of threats to cybersecurity as more operational and customer data becomes digital. Another key is to diligently test and pilot new 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.

For example, 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 electric vehicle chargers, various battery storage technologies, wireless Home Area Networks (which link to SmartMeter™ devices), home energy displays, smart thermostats and related equipment.

EPIC projects include:

  • Leveraging an advanced interval meter technology platform to improve customer service and offerings
  • Demonstrating energy storage technologies for enhanced market operations
  • Integrating and analyzing large data sets to optimize asset risk management
  • Demonstrating the potential to use electric vehicles (EV) as a resource to reduce customer outages
  • Piloting an EV submetering program that would provide customers greater insight into their energy use
  • Shaping grid operations of the future

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 late 2013, PG&E gained regulatory approval to begin work on a $49 million investment program that will fund technology development and demonstration.

In 2013, PG&E also began work on three new pilot projects to demonstrate smart grid technologies that could be used to increase reliability, reduce costs and the environmental impacts of electric system operation, and more effectively integrate distributed renewable generation on PG&E’s distribution system. A fourth pilot evaluates to what extent more granular sources of data can be used to improve the accuracy of demand forecasts, thereby reducing costs.

Together, these and other steps will help PG&E prepare for the future by making the grid smarter, more flexible and more resilient—while continuing to ensure the safety, reliability and affordability that our customers count on.

A smarter grid will enable PG&E to better serve our customers.

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