Open Innovation Challenges

Underground Infrastructure

Open Challenge: Automation and facilitation of permitting / easement process

Underground Infrastructure
Deadline for concept summaries: September 16, 2022

Sponsored by

pg&e logo


In an effort to underground approximately 10,000 miles of power lines in high fire threat districts, PG&E is looking for ways to increase the efficiency and decrease the cost of undergrounding. The current process to obtain permits, approvals, and easements for undergrounding projects is time-consuming, burdensome and requires significant manual effort.

Desired properties

  • Ability to aggregate and overlay disparate information for permitting or easements
  • Auto-population or streamlined production of necessary permit and/or easement documentation


Category 6: Permitting / Easement Facilitation

Problem statement

The existing process of obtaining the necessary permits, approvals and easements for undergrounding projects is burdensome and time-consuming. Depending on the specifics of the project, the permitting process may extend the overall timeline by over a year.  The multi-step document preparation process, manual and iterative nature of stakeholder engagement and lack of standardization of design requirements across agencies and jurisdictions all contribute to the lengthy timelines.  Given that all projects require some level of permitting, there is an urgent need to improve the process as benefits will be felt across the entire portfolio of work.

Possible approaches

Any solution that would reduce the time taken by permitting process is welcome. Possible approaches to this problem include solutions that help overlay data collected on a geographic information system (GIS) for the easement process, auto-population or streamlined production of necessary permit documentation or any other solution that reduces the level of manual effort required to complete the permitting process.

Industrywide Market GapPotential Solution Category
Significant manual effort is required to
populate, process and iterate on permit
and easement documentation
Pre-population or automated
document creation

Automated compilation of information
from multiple sources

Lack of standardized requirements across
agencies and jurisdictions
Ability to track or recognize varying
document requirements based on
location / agency / etc.
Known approaches not of interest
  • Procedural / management solutions are not of interest.


Key success criteria


  • Demonstrated improvement over current state-of-the-art technology
  • Decrease in manual effort required to complete permitting / easement process
  • Decrease in current timelines required to complete permitting / easement process by 35%


  • Commercially deployable within 3 years
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Undergrounding construction unavoidably disturbs soil at the site, generating excess spoils that must be properly disposed of. These spoils must be handled according to specific requirements and often must be hauled off-site for processing, remediation, or disposal. Moving soils back and forth for processing and disposal between off-site locations that are often far from dig sites requires time and resources that could be spent elsewhere. This process is particularly costly in cases where distrubed soil contains hazardous materials.


Labor required for digging tunnels and trenches, laying conduit and pulling and splicing cables drives the majority of undergrounding costs. While some innovation has been made in these areas, the methods and materials used have remained largely unchanged for years.