Editor’s Note: This is part of a series on why PA Consulting selected SDG&E for the 2018 National Reliability Award, in addition to the Best in the West, for superior performance among utilities in providing reliable electric service to customers. To learn more, visit sdge.com/reliability.
Our transformation to an energy company of the future started more than a decade ago with replacing analog meters with smart meters. Other long-term investments are helping us build a more intelligent, modern grid that benefits our customers.
Foundational to this technology is a telecommunications infrastructure to support remote devices on our power grid. We have made use of a 4G LTE cellular network, which makes high-speed communications to remote sites possible. This step paves the way for our own private 5G LTE cellular network that will be installed over the next seven years. A 5G network will enable the next generation of automated remote devices to come online.
Sophisticated Software Helps Grid Heal Itself
A number of advancements make our system more reliable, including how we find problems along our system, our efforts around emergency preparedness and innovative tools adopted by our crews.
Eventually, all our fault finding will be automated. The sophistication of our self-healing power grid relies on software that monitors energy flow interruptions and reacts with automated remote-controlled action to restore customers faster. The technology goes even further with wireless devices that tell us where damage to the system is located.
Falling Power Line Turns Itself Off
Our investment in a high-speed telecommunications network will power our new “falling conductor” protection which can de-energize a falling power line before it hits the ground, avoiding a possible ignition. It also helps prevent accidental electrical contact from downed power lines.
For regional safety and energy reliability, we take steps throughout the year to be prepared for wildfires. Through our Community Fire Safety Program, our goal is to protect people, property and power lines.
Strengthening Wildfire Safety
During the Red Flag Warning event in December 2017, extremely strong winds and dry conditions fueled the Lilac Fire in the northeastern part of our region and threatened neighboring communities. Our fire behavior modeling gave us insight into the fire and other hazards which we were able to share with fire agencies and first responders. SDG&E’s Emergency Operations Center was quickly activated and staffed by employees from around the company.
Weather data and electric system conditions were monitored around the clock for over two weeks. Crews and contract firefighters were staged with accuracy, where the winds were forecast to be the strongest. Locating crews in these areas in advance shortened response times when power shutoffs were initiated for public safety. No matter the reason, an outage is an inconvenience to customers so we’ve armed SDG&E crews with innovative tools to restore power faster.
Our employees in the field have a mobile mapping app so they can efficiently manage and document electrical equipment inspections, and flag anything that needs repair. Field crews access the app directly on their tablet or mobile device. The tool makes faster data capture in the field possible.
Using Drones to Conduct Inspections and Assist with Repairs
We’re the first utility in the nation to receive approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to research, test and train flight crews on Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, or drones, which are now used for surveying activities and detailed patrols of our transmission and distribution systems.
Drones have recently been used in a novel way, assisting with stringing a new fiber optic cable between two transmission poles in a rugged area. Now, what would have taken six to eight hours of strenuous and potentially dangerous work for our line crews is being completed in just eight minutes. Drones have also been used for investigative work…determining that a Mylar balloon caused a local fire.
Creating the building blocks for a modernized grid that provides our customers with reliable power. That’s what we’re doing here at SDG&E today, tomorrow and in the years to come.