Bertha Lamme Top Innovator Award for Generation: San Diego Gas and Electric


Top Innovators

Fortnightly Magazine - October 2023

PUF's Lori Burkhart: Cam, describe the innovation that led to your team winning the Bertha Lamme Top Innovator Award for Generation, how it works, and the benefits to San Diego Gas & Electric.

Cam Carroll: Almost two years ago, we started on this journey out of our Innovation Engine Team, which is essentially an innovation lab, a rapid prototyping team. We're seeing an explosion in the value of data science and models, and we needed a way for users and the business to be able to utilize and interact with those models.

We started with a prototype that we ultimately called the Community Impact Platform, and that initial innovation was for an advanced analytics visualization platform. That has transitioned and been scaled to what we now have with our Wildfire Next Generation System, WiNGs.

PUF: Nisha, what is your role in the development of the innovation?

Nisha Menon: I'm the Wildfire Mitigation Program Strategy Manager. The Wildfire Next Generation System (WiNGS) is a platform and a product of innovation, collaboration, and teamwork.

I manage the partnership between the Wildfire Mitigation Program team and other stakeholders from business units across the company (Enterprise Risk Management, IT, Fire Science & Climate Adaptation, Electric Engineering, et cetera), to address the company's top risk, wildfire, to keep our communities safe, and address the regulatory requirements associated with our Wildfire Mitigation Plan.

PUF: Joaquin, what was your role in the development of the innovation?

Joaquin Sebastian: I'm the Team Lead of Advanced Risk Analytics under the Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) group. Within the WiNGS product, my role has entailed two core responsibilities.

Firstly, I've led the development of models, ensuring they align with regulatory requirements, and provided guidance to both internal and external teams in the creation of the necessary analytics platforms for developing and implementing the risk models. Simultaneously, I've taken on the role of advocating for advanced analytics and promoting risk-informed decision making based on the insights of this model.

At the beginning of this journey, we struggled to promote understanding of this new tool, and that's why we partnered with Cam's group to create an interactive visualization platform that allows users to identify and prioritize risk-based decisions. This shift was necessary because it became apparent early on that our stakeholders were struggling to engage with the model's insights. We recognized that our users were not fully adopting the results of our models due to challenges in navigating the model's findings.

In partnership with Cam's team, and with the support from Nisha's team, we started building this platform so that users can access real-time data and navigate and interact with our advanced models to help and support decision making.

PUF: Cam, what was your role in the development of the innovation?

Cam Carroll: It's about bringing people and ideas together. There was this business need, they had these great models, but how do we increase adoption, increase utilization of those insights? 

In leading our innovation lab, we were able to bring two different sides of our organization together to create this vision of what WiNGs could be, to help elevate it in our efforts for wildfire mitigation.

PUF: Nisha, talk about the need for wildfire mitigation.

Nisha Menon: Over the past decade, there has been a rapid increase in wildfires in California and across the globe causing an extensive amount of damage and great personal loss. With this growing risk of wildfire due to climate change and its associated challenges, how do we use the advances in data science to develop better data-driven risk models to inform efforts to mitigate the risk of wildfire and reduce the impact of a public safety power shutoff (PSPS), when we have to proactively turn off power for safety reasons, to our customers? 

PUF: Is there anything, Joaquin, you'd like to add to that?

Joaquin Sebastian: We want to be transparent in what we do and how we do it. Given the significant wildfire risk, not only in California but potentially across the United States, it is imperative that we approach our short- and long-term decisions with a sense of responsibility.

We recognize the value of data analytics in our decisions and operations. While we acknowledge that our models may not be entirely perfect, we are dedicated to their ongoing enhancement and refinement.

We believe in a culture of continuous improvement, and that's why we dedicate a significant amount of resources to developing these models. We're learning more and more. We are partnering with industry leaders, academia, and other investor-owned utilities to continue evolving this space.

PUF: Cam, what was most rewarding for you working on this innovation?

Cam Carroll: I have a couple of charters within my role leading the Digital Innovation group. The first is bringing groups together, helping them think about different and modern ways of working. That's rewarding to see that journey with partners.

The second piece, we're out in front trying to accelerate digital and cloud technologies. Being able to apply cloud technology to solve an important problem is rewarding.

It marries what I do on the technology side with our business initiatives. Wildfire is our single biggest risk as an organization and being able to apply cloud technology to that is rewarding for me, as is bringing the people and technology together.

PUF: Nisha, what is most rewarding for you?

Nisha Menon: Three things come to mind for what's most rewarding about this effort for me.

Working with a motivated team with the drive to address our company's top risk and promote community safety.

As leaders in this space, we are sharing best practices and collaborating with other utilities, academia, and industry partners on addressing wildfire risk. When we hear about wildfires in other parts of the world, this effort is a reminder of how meaningful and impactful our work is toward the greater goal of keeping our communities safe.

PUF: Joaquin, what has been most rewarding as you've worked on this innovation?

Joaquin Sebastian: I emphasize the internal drive within our utility to resolve the wildfire problem. It's truly gratifying to witness the motivation within our internal teams, their dedication to understanding, quantifying, and striving for growth and improvement.

Another noteworthy aspect is the transformation of how our utility approaches data and risk assessment. During my four-year tenure with the company as a data scientist, I've witnessed a substantial shift in how we perceive and manage data, emphasizing data governance and embracing a forward-looking vision for the utility. We are transitioning into a more data-centric organization, and this evolution is fascinating.


Image: Bertha Lamme Top Innovator Award for Generation to San Diego Gas and Electric team, from left, Cam Carroll, Joaquin Sebastian, and Nisha Menon.


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