Newly installed technology that can detect short circuits and instantaneously cuts electricity, should dramatically reduce utility triggered wildfires this summer.
PG&E, has upgraded lines serving three million Californians. The new ‘Enhanced Powerline Safety Settings,’ can sever power in as quickly as one tenth of a second when danger, such as a tree branch touching a line, is detected.
The utility says the technology reduced by four fifths the number of incidents it was required to report to regulators last year.
Deanna Contreras, a PG&E spokeswoman, said that under normal conditions, PG&E technology prioritizes keeping power on.
“There’s a lot of different technology in the lines that helps keep the power on, it improves the reliability whenever a tree branch brushes up against the line or whenever a squirrel or whenever a bird touches the line; the technology on those lines is meant to keep the power on.”
The new technology overrides this system if there’s a potential problem, and shuts power off.
“Because of these extreme drought conditions that we’re seeing…we have adjusted the settings to where the power will not be running through that line if a fault is detected. We don’t want power running through that line when something is on it during these high fire-risk conditions,” she said.
Unlike Public Safety Power Shutoffs, which are planned as a result of hazardous weather conditions, shut offs triggered by the safety settings will be unplanned. Contreras said this may mean more power shut offs are ahead this summer for people living in Sonoma County.
“Customers may experience more power outages. And we will patrol the line, we will not restore the power until we’ve patrolled the line to make sure the fault is removed…whatever it is that caused the power to go out we have to make sure that it’s gone before we can restore power again,” she said.