California’s energy industry is undergoing more change right now than at any time in its history. California set ambitious goals for utilities to secure 33 percent of its power from renewable energy by 2020, a goal that San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) recently achieved, five years ahead of schedule. While making the grid more sustainable, utilities also continue to strengthen the core foundation of safety when providing energy to the community. With so much change underway, SDG&E has focused increasing attention on managing the risk of leading this change and thriving in California’s dynamic energy and regulatory environment.
Leading SDG&E’s Risk Management Efforts
That’s where Diana Day comes in. Day is SDG&E’s Vice President of Enterprise Risk Management and Compliance. She leads the utility team that identifies, evaluates, and creates strategies to mitigate risk with the goal of improving safety and operations at all levels. For example, SDG&E integrates risk into key decision-making processes, infrastructure investments, and daily operations. This focus on risk is a central pillar of the prudent management of the utility. It strengthens SDG&E’s safety culture, maintains the reliability of its service, promotes customer service, and fosters sustainability. Risk management also helps SDG&E to understand and navigate California’s regulatory environment and develop services and projects that support the state’s clean energy goals and benefit customers well into the future.
“It’s all about running a better business,” said Day. “SDG&E is focused on identifying risk, learning how to measure it consistently, and mitigating it. When we take very accurate data on risk and combine it with the very talented and experienced employees that we have at SDG&E, we see great results. This makes sure that our people and resources are focused on the right strategic areas, that they are constantly improving operational effectiveness and reliability, and above all, that they are promoting safety in all that we do at SDG&E.”
Day’s journey to SDG&E began in Seattle, Washington, where she was born. She graduated from Washington State University and received a law degree from the University of Virginia. She then worked at the law firm Latham and Watkins, focusing on corporate and transactional law. Day joined Sempra Energy, SDG&E’s parent company, in 1997. After several years working in the law department, she moved to SDG&E and was tasked with forming an entirely new division focused on risk management. Day says the experience has been rewarding intellectually, and she enjoys bringing a talented group of employees together to manage the pressing issues of the day.
One of the most rewarding projects that she has worked on is managing the risk of wildfires fueled by stronger and more frequent winds and by more dry fuel conditions due to California’s ongoing drought. Given the continuing and growing threat of wildfires in California, SDG&E developed the largest and most advanced utility weather sensor network in the nation to mitigate this risk. This network of more than 170 state-of-the-art weather stations measures everything from temperature and humidity to wind speed and solar radiation, all of which provides a greater awareness of the electric grid and helps prevent wildfires and other emergencies. SDG&E also replaced 4,000 wood poles with steel poles in high risk fire areas. SDG&E has brought in a massive Erickson Skycrane helicopter equipped with a 2,500 gallon tank of water for six years in a row to help manage the community risk of controlling a small fire before it has a chance to grow and become an uncontrollable larger fire. By understanding fire risk and identifying and taking appropriate mitigation measures, SDG&E has helped to better prepare San Diego for the threat of wildfires.
Fostering Careers for Women in Energy
Day has helped secure many achievements for the company, but she also has navigated challenges that are familiar to many young parents. The mother of eight children, Day worked an 80-percent schedule for a several years at Sempra Energy and also minimized her work travel so she could focus on raising her young children.
“As a mother, it was certainly challenging to balance work and family life,” Day said. “You have to make sure you give enough time to your family, even as you are working hard on the job. It’s manageable but you need to focus on it. I am fortunate to work at a company that provides flexibility for young mothers, and that is essential to balancing your family needs. Giving young parents the flexibility to start families creates happier and more fulfilled workers and allows more women to proceed onto senior roles in the workplace.”
Day’s advice to other women beginning their careers is to seek out new opportunities in the work place. Women can explore new areas through multidisciplinary and cross-functional work that not only builds their skills but is also rewarding from a personal perspective. In addition, Day recommends branching out from the job and engaging more broadly in community work, external speaking engagements, and nonprofit volunteer groups.
“My advice to other young mothers is to make sure you have something outside of the job and home that is meaningful to you personally beyond core responsibilities,” said Day. “It can be anything, from physical fitness training, to volunteer work, to religious services. I also recommend forming professional networks with other women. I am involved with a great group of women who meet regularly and support each other, which means a great deal to me.”
Continuing to Shape the Future
As California’s energy industry continues its rapid transformation, assessing risk will be more important than ever. Day is looking forward to new ventures that will help SDG&E continuously improve in this area. On the horizon is a new Enterprise Risk Management Center that will feature information from every area of the company in an easily understood and accessible visual format. This will then be augmented with live feeds, news reports, and real-time data inputs from the field to give leadership greater situational awareness of many risk factors at once.
California is known for pioneering new frontiers in technology and other fields, and SDG&E is continuing this tradition by trailblazing in the energy industry. By leveraging new technology and focusing on improving its operations every day through risk management, SDG&E will continue to shape California’s energy future to benefit customers, community, the economy, and the environment.