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PG&E's weather stations, fire-watch cameras reducing size of power shutoffs

PG&E's weather stations, fire-watch cameras reducing size of power shutoffs

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PG&E wildfire camera

PG&E has installed 340 fire-watch cameras in its service area, including 31 in Napa, Sonoma and Marin counties. 

Pacific Gas and Electric Company’s expanded network of enhanced weather technology, including weather stations and high-definition fire-watch cameras, helped reduce the size of each Public Safety Power Shutoff event in 2020 on average by 55%, the utility reported.

At the end of 2020, PG&E had 1,000 weather stations and 340 cameras in operation throughout Northern and Central California, providing more precise weather data to the company’s team of meteorologists and outside agencies. More than 121 of those weather stations and 31 cameras are in the North Bay counties of Marin, Napa and Sonoma.

The weather stations, along with sectionalizing devices that isolate the grid into smaller segments and deployment of temporary generation and microgrids, enabled PG&E to keep the lights on for thousands of customers who would have lost power during comparable weather events in 2019, PG&E said. PG&E removed more than 800,000 customers during 2020 PSPS events.

In 2020, PG&E installed 400 new weather stations and 216 HD cameras as part of its Community Wildfire Safety Program. These high-tech tools provide better situational awareness and more precise weather monitoring and forecasting that allowed for more precision in determining where a PSPS is needed, the utility said.

“In a PSPS event, if the conditions are not materializing above risk thresholds, then we’re able to use this data as one of our decision-making support tools to significantly shrink or eliminate an area that was originally in scope for power shut off,” said Ashley Helmetag, PG&E senior meteorologist.

In addition to PG&E’s in-house meteorology team, the expert staff in the company’s Wildfire Safety Operations Center (WSOC) rely on this real-time information, as well as outside agencies and first-responders as they make critical decisions during wildfire season.

PG&E has been adding to its network of weather stations and cameras since 2018, mostly in high fire-threat areas. The program, which plans to install 1,300 weather stations by the end of 2021, is designed to create a density of roughly one weather station for every 20 miles of electric lines in high fire-threat areas. By the end of 2022, PG&E plans to have nearly 600 cameras installed. When complete, PG&E expects to have the ability to see in real-time roughly 90% of the high fire-risk areas it serves.

The stations provide temperature, wind speed and humidity data that is monitored, tracked and evaluated by PG&E’s meteorology team and analysts in the WSOC.

The WSOC staff also use PG&E’s network of fire-watch cameras to monitor and respond to wildfires. These resources are also available to CAL FIRE and other fire agencies, as needed, and can be viewed publicly by anyone through the Alert Wildfire Network at www.alertwildfire.org.

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