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Southern California Edison has installed 58 solar-powered weather stations and another 67 will go up before the end of the year. SCE’s goal is to install up to 850 in high fire risk areas by the end of 2020.
The weather stations are part of a $582 million Grid Safety and Resiliency Program the utility has proposed to the California Public Utilities Commission.
“We need to go beyond existing state standards and traditional utility practices and incorporate leading mitigation measures deployed in high fire risk regions from around the world, selected based on their effectiveness,” said Phil Herrington, SCE senior vice president of Transmission & Distribution.
“We are taking a holistic approach that includes further hardening our infrastructure, bolstering our situational awareness capabilities and enhancing our operational practices.”
The weather stations are being installed on utility poles and have various sensors that provide real-time weather data. This includes wind speed and wind gust, temperature, humidity and solar data every 10 minutes. The information is fed into advanced weather modeling software that can forecast high fire risk conditions down to a third of a mile.
“Our weather stations will detect if sustained wind speeds and wind gusts reach levels of concern, which is critical in determining real-time courses of action in high fire risk areas,” said SCE meteorologist Nicholas Sette.
“Once we have collected weather data over a period of time, we can better predict which areas will experience strong winds more frequently and we can prioritize those areas and monitor them before the wildfire threat increases.”
If approved by the commission, the Grid Safety and Resiliency Program will also include an advanced computing platform that will generate a fire potential index. The data will be used to compare current weather and moisture levels in both live and dead plants, trees and other vegetation against decades of data from previous wildfires to determine the ignition risk factor. This information can be used to inform operational decisions, implement work restrictions and optimize resource allocation for emergency situations.
The weather forecasting technology is located at SCE’s Situational Awareness Center, which is part of the utility’s Emergency Operations Center. This is where meteorologists and mapping specialists monitor weather conditions and the potential threat to SCE’s infrastructure — around-the-clock — during an emergency, such as a wildfire or severe storm.
As a measure of last resort, SCE will also consider a public safety power shutoff — in which circuits are pre-emptively de-energized — to protect people during high risk weather conditions.
The weather stations, fire monitoring cameras, fire-resistant composite poles, insulated wires and more are part of SCE’s proposed Grid Safety and Resiliency Program. If approved, the average monthly electricity bill would increase by $1.20 for residential customers and .81 cents for CARE (California Alternate Rates for Energy) customers.
“These preventive measures would provide added layers of protection against wildfires, now that fire season is year-round across the state,” said Don Daigler, SCE’s director of Business Resiliency. “We remain committed to protecting the public and maintaining the reliability of our system which serves our 15 million customers.”