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Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) is piloting a smart grid technology in the Rio Vista, California, area called Fault Location, Isolation, and Service Restoration (FLISR) that is designed to help the electrical system become more reliable by enabling it to fix damage itself.

The FLISR solution has been deployed on 25 miles of circuits that delivers power to Isleton and Clarksburg along the Sacramento River, as well as local farms and ranches. Through a device called an intelligent switch, PG&E reports FLISR can “detect a short-circuit, block power flows to the affected area, communicate with other nearby switches, and then reroute power around the problem to keep as many customers energized as possible—all within five minutes.”

The technology proved its value on September 12 when a downed overhead line damaged one of PG&E’s two circuits to Rio Vista. The FLISR equipment analyzed the problem, isolated the bad section, and restored service to 1,774 of 2,294 customers in less than two and a half minutes. The rapid response time reduced the number of affected customers by 77 percent.

PG&E installed the FLISR equipment as part of its $360 million Cornerstone Improvement Program, authorized by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), which includes automating more than 400 of PG&E’s 3,200 electric distribution circuits.

The utility reports it has been testing available technology for many months to make sure its investment pays off for years to come. “This will be a big deal to many customers. An hour of downtime can cost businesses tens, even hundreds of thousands of dollars. But even if you’re working from home, an hour lost can blow your deadline, costing you money and aggravation.”

The CPUC has agreed to revisit the technology in 2014 for the purpose of authorizing more upgrades if shown to be cost-effective.

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