Overhead view of two PG&E employees at an electric substation

Electric Operations

Reliability is a cornerstone of PG&E’s electric-service commitment to customers. It’s vital to data centers that are the backbone of Silicon Valley. It’s vital to farmers who put fruits and vegetables from the Central Valley on the plates of the nation. It’s vital as students do their homework on a winter’s evening and as families run air conditioners on hot summer days.

Due to the substantial investments that we’ve made to strengthen our infrastructure and implement the latest smart grid technology, reliability continues to improve. In fact, record-setting results over the past seven years are keeping the lights on for customers and helping power California’s economy.

Our Approach

We build our multiyear strategic plan on lessons learned and progress made, allowing us to enhance our focus on continuous improvement across public safety, workforce safety, compliance, emergency preparedness, reliability, customer satisfaction and efficiency. Benchmarking our performance with other energy companies and identifying and adopting best practices are also fundamental to our approach.

To improve reliability, we regularly maintain and replace older equipment, upgrade other assets and implement new technology to monitor and restore power. With the state’s persistent drought, we continue to work with local and state agencies to help reduce the risk of wildfires through enhanced inspection of vegetation along power lines and improved access for firefighters. This effort includes dozens of projects impacting and enhancing wildfire prevention in local communities.

Preventing downed electric wires remains an area of particular focus. 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 recommended actions to prevent a recurrence. We are also working to identify, prune or remove trees that could pose a hazard to our wires.

2015 Milestones

PG&E epmloyees inside the Rocklin electric distribution control center in Placer County.

PG&E completes move to high-tech electric distribution control centers

With the opening of a third electric distribution control center in Placer County, PG&E completed a successful multiyear project that has transformed how we monitor and operate the energy grid. Together, the three centers will benefit customers through enhanced reliability, quicker response to outages and emergencies such as natural disasters, and continued integration of clean and renewable energy into PG&E’s energy supply.

PG&E continues to integrate a wide range of advanced communications and control technologies throughout our electric grid to help enhance the resiliency of the system and restore power outages more quickly.

Highlights from 2015 included:

  • Operating new distribution control centers. PG&E has constructed three state-of-the-art electric distribution control centers that manage our more than 140,000 miles of electric distribution lines. The first control center opened in Fresno in late 2014 and is equipped with systems that support today’s smart grid, as well as future upgrades. The second control center opened in Concord in August 2015 with a control-room theater the size of three NBA basketball courts. A third control center, in Rocklin in Placer County, opened in February 2016.
  • Invested in our system. Throughout the year, PG&E upgraded our electric system with a multitude of local projects to enhance reliability and increase capacity. These ranged from upgrading power lines and replacing power poles in Sonora to installing intelligent switches in Sutter County to using helicopters to upgrade seven miles of transmission towers and power lines along the well-traveled Dumbarton Bridge between Newark and Menlo Park in the San Francisco Bay Area.
  • Installed advanced automation technology on power lines throughout our service area. This technology, now installed on more than 700 electric distribution circuits, can automatically “self-heal” the grid by rerouting the flow of electricity around a damaged power line, often restoring power to the majority of impacted customers within minutes. Since the program began in 2012, these systems have been installed on more than 20 percent of PG&E’s electrical distribution circuits and have helped the company avoid 130 million customer outage minutes and prevented more than 1.3 million customers from experiencing a sustained outage.
  • Leveraged SmartMeter™ technology. A foundational component of a more intelligent electric grid 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. They also enable PG&E to better detect areas affected by outages, resulting in faster and more accurate service restoration.

Measuring Progress

In 2015, the average PG&E customer experienced less than one outage during the year, contributing to record electric reliability to customers for the seventh straight year.

The average time a PG&E customer was without power (SAIDI) was 96 minutes, representing a 50 percent improvement since 2006. The average number of power interruptions per customer (SAIFI) dropped to 0.871, 40 percent less than in 2006.

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.
  • System Average Interruption Frequency Index (SAIFI) measures the system-wide frequency of power interruptions per customer.
Benchmarking PG&E’s Reliability Performance Footnote 1
SAIDI (minutes)
2015 Target 106.6
2015 Actual 96.0
5-Year Average 119.2
SAIFI (interruptions per customer)
2015 Target 0.957
2015 Actual 0.871
5-Year Average 1.022
  • 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. Return to table
PG&E worker working at the Mission Substation.

PG&E completes major upgrade of San Francisco’s Mission Substation

PG&E’s Mission Substation, a three-story building in downtown San Francisco that powers parts of the city’s Financial District, is now better equipped to handle emergencies as well as growing demand, thanks to PG&E’s extensive modernization project. The $4.4 million upgrade included substantial investment in the site’s internal infrastructure and improvement to the building’s aesthetics. The project is part of PG&E’s plan to invest $1.2 billion in San Francisco’s electric and gas infrastructure to improve overall safety and reliability.

Looking Ahead

View of several houses with rooftop solar panels

PG&E launches distributed energy resource projects in San Jose

PG&E announced the launch of multiple technology demonstration projects in San Jose to advance integration of distributed energy resources, such as solar power installations and battery storage systems, and further unlock benefits of the electric grid.

PG&E is teaming up with GE to demonstrate a Distributed Energy Resource Management System (DERMS), with SolarCity to install and test smart inverters and battery storage systems, and with Green Charge Networks to install energy storage. The demonstrations will help evaluate to what extent the DERMS technology enables the safe, reliable and affordable operations of a grid with increased levels of distributed energy resources.

Photo by U.S. Department of Energy

The energy grid is changing and so are the needs and demands of our customers. That’s why we are developing, building and maintaining a grid that allows customers to take full advantage of the many new energy technologies becoming available today and in the near future—and in a way that gives them maximum flexibility, choice and value.

We call this the Grid of Things™—perhaps best described as a “plug-and-play” platform that allows energy technologies to be interconnected with each other and integrated into the larger grid. Just like the internet maximizes the benefits of the billions of things connected to it, the grid has begun to do the same for customers’ energy technologies.

Among other elements, the grid will interact with private solar installations, battery storage systems and consumer mobile applications, giving PG&E greater visibility into operations to improve reliability and balance renewable energy with conventional sources.

PG&E already has a number of projects and investments underway, including smart grid infrastructure modernization.

Building this future requires that energy providers 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.

To that end, 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 and smart thermostats.

PG&E also continues to work on a series of pilot projects to demonstrate 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.

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 provide the safety, reliability and affordability that our customers count on.

On the left, one of the distributed energy resource projects under construction in San Jose. On the right, a roof with solar panels

Technology demonstration and deployment

In 2015, PG&E added 15 demonstration projects as part of the Electric Program Investment Charge (EPIC) program, which enables 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.

Through the program, PG&E is demonstrating technology across four areas: renewables and distributed energy resource integration. grid modernization and optimization, customer service and enablement, and cross-cutting foundational strategies and technologies.

EPIC projects include:

  • Demonstrating energy storage technologies for enhanced market operations.
  • Integrating and analyzing large data sets to optimize asset risk management.
  • Piloting an electric vehicle (EV) submetering program that would provide customers greater insight into their energy use.
  • Drawing together diverse data sources to give grid operators a more complete perspective to optimize operations with situational intelligence.
  • Testing physical devices, such as robots, that help perform maintenance on switches with elevated risk.
  • Demonstrating the viability of plug-in electric trucks that can, for example, keep an American Red Cross facility functioning during a wildfire or a planned outage.





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