Groundbreaking Technology Accurately Predicts Wildfire Spread

SCE’s wildfire prevention measures will help reduce proactive power shutoffs and keep the lights on for more customers.
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Stories : Safety

Groundbreaking Technology Accurately Predicts Wildfire Spread

SCE’s wildfire prevention measures will help reduce proactive power shutoffs and keep the lights on for more customers.
Contributors
Photo Credit: Elisa Ferrari
 

Despite the recent rainstorms, Tom Rolinski is preparing for an active wildfire season. He is testing state-of-the-art technology to determine the wildfire threat in high fire risk areas with an unprecedented level of accuracy.

“This groundbreaking technology is changing the way we assess fire potential at Southern California Edison,” said Rolinski, SCE’s fire scientist.

Three new high-tech tools are currently being used or will be piloted this summer. One identifies where a large fire could start within SCE’s service area and predicts which communities and structures could be threatened. The information can then be used to improve SCE’s ability to design and target mitigations to address the highest risks first.

“The technology enhances our ability to determine extreme weather conditions at the circuit level in a specific neighborhood located in a high fire risk area,” Rolinski said.

Tom Rolinski, SCE fire scientist, in Acton examining an SCE vegetation sampling site.
Tom Rolinski, SCE fire scientist, in Acton examining an SCE vegetation sampling site.

The other two technologies will support preparation for and response to specific extreme weather events. Real-time simulation modeling will help determine the potential fire impacts from an extreme weather event. This information will assist SCE’s Fire Management team to dispatch field crews to monitor weather conditions on the ground in real-time and determine if power can be rerouted.

“We’re able to see the fire potential at least three days in advance of an extreme weather event,” said Rolinski. “We’re using weather modeling data from our own supercomputers to run millions of fire simulations each day this year across our service territory.”

While the late season rainfall gives Southern California a later start to wildfire season this year, “we are likely poised for a more active season than last year,” Rolinski said. “Last year, about 260,000 acres burned statewide so it was a very quiet year and well below the annual average of 800,000 acres.”

Debbie Beckett, a vegetation sampler, collects plants in a plastic container to test the moisture content for SCE.
Debbie Beckett, a vegetation sampler, collects plants in a plastic container to test the moisture content for SCE.

In preparation for wildfire season, SCE continues to implement its annual Wildfire Mitigation Plan, which includes expanded operational practices such as enhanced overhead inspections in fire-prone areas. The company has installed 623 weather stations; a total of 850 will be operational by the end of this year. SCE has already installed more than 160 wildfire monitoring cameras thoroughly covering high fire risk areas on Alertwildfire.org.

SCE crews continue to install insulated power lines, which prevent arcing or sparking if a tree branch or metallic balloon makes contact during extreme weather events. So far, nearly 600 miles of insulated power lines are in place in high fire risk areas and 600 more miles will be installed by the end of this year.

Debbie Beckett, a vegetation sampler, cuts new growth to send to a lab to be analyzed.
Debbie Beckett, a vegetation sampler, cuts new growth to send to a lab to be analyzed.

Other measures to reduce potential fire ignitions include the installation of more than 12,000 protective devices that interrupt electric current more quickly and boost reliability by segmenting circuits to isolate problems.

Over time, SCE’s wildfire measures are expected to decrease the number of customers affected by Public Safety Power Shutoffs.

“Fewer customers will be impacted because we can segment our circuits and turn off smaller portions of circuits when we need to,” Rolinski said.