Santa Monica’s electrical grid is improving in reliability due to infrastructure upgrades throughout the City.

According to Southern California Edison (SCE), the number and duration of power outages decreased in 2015 for the Santa Monica area at large and the City in specific. SCE provides three measurements for electrical reliability and all show some kind of improvement.

MAIFI is the number of times the average customer is interrupted by momentary outages (lasting five minutes or less) each year. SAIFI is the number of times the average customer is interrupted by sustained outages (longer than five minutes) each year. SAIDI is the cumulative amount of time the average customer is interrupted by sustained outages (longer than five minutes) each year.

SCE’s Santa Monica district includes several communities including Beverly Hills, Culver City, Franklin Canyon, Ladera Heights, Los Angeles, Marina Del Rey, Santa Monica, Universal City and West Hollywood.

District wide the average outage time (SAIDI) dropped from 110.4 minutes in 2014 to 75.41 minutes in 2015. The area had one of the lowest time totals ranking 30 out of 35 in total outage time. Blythe ranked number 1 with 427 minutes of outage time and Catalina was 35 with 42.56 minutes.

The average district customer experienced 0.62 sustained outages (SAIFI) in 2015, meaning that in reality about 60 percent of customers experienced one sustained outage and about 40 percent had uninterrupted service for the year. The area ranked 32 out of 35 in this category. Saddleback ranked 35 with an SAIFI of just 0.39 and Arrowhead ranked 1 with 3.97.

Reliability in the City of Santa Monica specifically is actually better than the district average. Circuits serving Santa Monica residents had 43.9 minutes of outage in 2015. The average customer experienced 0.4 sustained outages per year and 1.1 momentary interruptions.

SCE has about 56,575 customers in Santa Monica spread among 48 circuits. The number of customers per circuit varies wildly from Palisades at Montana/9th St (10 customers) and Aircraft on Donald Douglas Loop (34 customers) to Riptide covering a swath of town from PCH to 7th and Wilshire to San Vicente (4,760) and Albatross that covers a narrow band from Wilshire to San Vicente between 7th and 9th (4,710 customers).

For those customers that did experience outages, about 44 percent were caused by urgent maintenance performed without the usual three-day notice, 30 percent were caused by equipment failures, 11.4 percent caused by weather/fire/earthquake, 10 percent were unexplained, 3.7 percent were caused by animals or vegetation damaging the lines and less than 1 percent were caused by a third party action such as a car hitting a pole or construction work damaging a line.

SCE has been upgrading local circuits since 2012 when they began a review of local outage data and identified the worst circuits. That list was refined based on in-person inspections, engineering reports and public affairs outreach. Upgrades for each of the targeted circuits were identified in 2013 and included equipment replacement, installation of isolation devices and alternate power sources. Site survey work began in 2014 and construction began in 2015.

Upgrades to Santa Monica have taken several forms. SCE undertakes regular maintenance, such as the replacement of power poles to maintain service, but the utility is also making upgrades and investments to the system such as the recent burying of some powerlines in the Pico neighborhood.

“You’re seeing a lot of what we call ‘circuit rebuilds,’ that’s not to maintain and sustain, that’s looking to the future. That’s upgrading the equipment to new equipment and more reliable technology,” said SCE media representative David Song.

Song said part of the motivation for the Santa Monica work is to meet the needs of customers that are often at the forefront of sustainable technology.

“If you have a battery powered electric vehicle like the Tesla or the Volt, the electrical demand of one of these vehicles charging on the grid is equivalent to a new home,” he said. “If you have a few residents that decide to buy electric vehicles, it’s like adding new buildings. The transformers and equipment were designed to handle what was already there and now we have a higher adoption of electric vehicles, we have to accommodate that extra demand with updated equipment. You can see why sustaining and maintaining isn’t good enough.”

He said new technology is also necessary to regulate already popular technology like solar panels.

“Solar is great, but the intermittency of it is what causes issues for us,” he said. “Clouds cover them for a minute, then are gone so the power drops and ramps up. That fluctuation can cause reliability issues and we’re putting in equipment to handle the ups and downs of the energy demand and generation that comes in from customers.”

Song said the work SCE does in Santa Monica is entirely for Santa Monica customers and while it can be inconvenient, customers benefit in the end.

“[Workers] are probably closing off lanes and causing backups in traffic but we hope that customers keep in mind they’re out there in the community working because they’re looking to the future of the grid. We’re trying to make sure that we’re prepared for the future.”

Song said SCE wants customers to update the utility when they are making changes to their home electrical usage, such as with the purchase of an electric vehicle. Customers can call (800) 655-4555 for general customer service information or visit sce.com/pev for specialized information on electric vehicles.

editor@www.smdp.com