PG&E adds hundreds of weather stations, fire-safety cameras
SAN FRANCISCO — A rapidly growing network of weather stations and high definition cameras across high-fire threat districts provide Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) meteorologists and analysts, weather-watchers and first responders with detailed, real-time information crucial during California’s wildfire season.
So far in 2020, PG&E has added 300 weather stations and 137 fire watch cameras this year as it approaches the goal of installing 400 weather stations and 200 cameras by the end of December. Currently, PG&E has a total of 900 weather stations and 270 HD cameras.
PG&E has been adding to its network of weather stations and cameras since 2018, mostly in high fire-threat areas in Northern and Central California. The result has been increased situational awareness of fire-danger conditions.
The stations provide temperature, wind speed and humidity data that is monitored, tracked and evaluated by PG&E’s in-house meteorology team in real-time. The data is also critical information for PG&E’s analysts in the Wildfire Safety Operations Center, the “hub” from which the company monitors threats across its service area and coordinates with first responders and public safety officials. The weather data is one of the many factors used to help decide if a Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) will be necessary.
High winds can cause tree branches and other debris to contact energized electric lines, which could damage PG&E equipment and potentially lead to a wildfire. A PSPS is when the company may need to turn off power during severe weather for public safety to prevent such fires. PG&E is working to improve its PSPS Program by making events smaller in size, shorter in length and smarter for customers. Installing new weather stations will help analysts more precisely forecast weather that could lead to PSPS events.
The Wildfire Safety Operations Center staff also use the cameras to monitor and respond to wildfires. PG&E allows CAL FIRE and other fire agencies to control the cameras, as needed, and anyone can view them.
The PG&E cameras and weather stations are part of the company’s Community Wildfire Safety Program. The goal is to install 1,300 weather stations by the end of 2021, to create a density of roughly one weather station for every 20 miles of electric lines in high fire-threat areas and install nearly 600 cameras by the end of 2022. When complete, PG&E will have the ability to see more than 90% of the high fire-risk areas it serves.
Station observations are available to state and local agencies as well as the public, through PG&E’s website at www.pge.com/weather and MesoWest. Anyone can view the live images from the cameras through the Alert Wildfire Network at www.alertwildfire.org.
Earlier this year, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) approved PG&E’s 2020 Wildfire Mitigation Plan (WMP), which details plans and actions to make the electric system safer. In addition to installing a series of weather stations, this work includes installing new grid technology, a critical hardening of the electric system and steps to reduce the impacts of PSPS.
For more information about PG&E’s wildfire mitigations and efforts to reduce the impacts of PSPS events, visit pge.com/wildfiresafety.