Settings Automatically Turn Off Power Within One-Tenth of a Second or Less When a Hazard on a Powerline is Detected

Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) today announced that installation of Enhanced Powerline Safety Settings (EPSS) on its distribution powerlines in high fire-risk areas (HFRA) is essentially complete. These safety settings quickly and automatically shut off power within one-tenth of a second or less if a potential threat is detected to the electric system, such as a tree branch falling into a powerline.

PG&E Meteorology and Operations teams assess wildfire risk daily along more than 1,000 circuits in high-risk areas. When wildfire risk is elevated, the teams will enable EPSS to reduce the likelihood of potential wildfire ignitions and provide additional protection for customers.

Launched as a pilot in 2021, these enhanced safety settings reduced California Public Utilities Commission-reportable ignitions by 80% on EPSS-enabled circuits in HFRAs, as of Dec. 31, 2021, when compared to the prior three-year average across more than 11,500 HFRA miles of line, or 45% of the distribution powerlines in HFRAs.

Given the substantial ignition reduction benefits experienced last year, PG&E expanded implementation of these new safety settings in 2022 across approximately 25,500 distribution line miles located in HFRAs as well as another 18,500 line miles in areas adjacent to HFRAs. As of May 24, 2022, PG&E has protected more than 850,000 customers in high fire-risk areas where the settings have been installed and enabled.

“We remain steadfast in our commitment to make it safe for our customers and strive for our goal of zero utility-caused catastrophic wildfires,” said Mark Quinlan, PG&E’s Vice President of Transmission and Distribution System Operations. “These enhanced safety settings help to reduce the current risk of wildfires for our most vulnerable customers and are just one of many wildfire prevention efforts we are employing to strengthen our system, incorporate new technologies and take aggressive action to increase system safety.”

Compared to Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS), which are a last resort when severe weather conditions such as high winds are forecast, EPSS is effective when extremely dry fuels make powerline faults more likely to spark a fire. These enhanced safety settings do not require a proactive shutoff like PSPS events and instead, may result in outages in real time when a threat is detected to the electric system.

(Watch a video of ongoing testing of the safety settings at PG&E’s Applied Technology Services lab in San Ramon.)

Enhanced Customer Support

Although these new safety settings make the electric system safer, having the power turn off quickly and automatically results in customer outages. PG&E is working to reduce the outages and increase the resources available to affected customers.

During the 2021 pilot, after optimizing the equipment and improving the efficiency of restoration processes, the average customer outage length on EPSS-enabled circuits decreased by 40%. Additional improvements to the program in 2022 will enable a more surgical approach to minimize the frequency and duration of outages and reduce the number of customers impacted. That includes refining operational flexibility during the time-periods of potential wildfire risk when it comes to enabling the enhanced safety settings.

PG&E is also bolstering communication and engagement efforts with potentially affected customers and communities in HFRAs and nearby areas during and after service interruptions. This will include automated outage alerts with improved estimated time of restoration information. Additional communications include newsletters, webinars, letters and emails; updating the EPSS page on our website; and providing information via social media sites such as Nextdoor and Facebook.

PG&E also has resources to help customers prepare for outages and stay safe. In 2022, changes to our programs include:

  • Increased funding and expansion of eligibility for the Generator Rebate Program, which is for customers who rely on well water, as well as for customers in our Medical Baseline Program and certain small businesses.
  • Removal of the low-income requirements for the Portable Battery Program, available for eligible customers in our Medical Baseline Program who live in high fire-threat areas.
  • The expansion of the Backup Power Transfer Meter, now being offered to all customers on EPSS-enabled circuits.

For more information, please visit pge.com/epss.

Long-Term Action to Reduce Wildfire Risk

The enhanced safety settings are just one of the many steps PG&E is taking to protect customers and communities. We are taking long-term action, using new, advanced tools to prevent wildfires and build the state-of-the-art electric system that our communities deserve. This work includes:

  • Beginning to underground 10,000 miles of powerlines to improve the safety and reliability of our service.
  • Exceeding state vegetation standards to prevent trees from falling into powerlines.
  • Continuing to install stronger poles and powerlines to make the electric grid safer and more resilient.
  • Reducing the impact of Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS) with grid updates and weather forecasting improvements that allow us to surgically target shutoffs.
  • Installing microgrids that use generators to keep the electricity on during wildfire safety outages.

About PG&E

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.

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