In today's fast-paced world, where electricity is an ever-present and increasingly indispensable part of our daily lives, the role of electric utilities has never been more critical.
This role is leading more and more utilities to embrace the capabilities offered by modern geographic information systems (GIS) models. For utilities, having access to the advanced tools and features offered by today’s GIS is somewhat analogous to packing essential gear for an arduous hike on a challenging mountain trail. As experienced hikers know all too well, having gear that prepares for an unexpected change in weather conditions, a rockslide covering portions of the trail or any other surprise along the way can spell the difference between a rewarding experience and a disaster.
Properly preparing for the trail is somewhat akin to utilities embracing cutting-edge technologies like advanced distribution management systems (ADMS) to enhance grid performance, efficiency and reliability. Having accurate GIS information is essential preparation before setting off onto the trail of utility network (UN) migration or ADMS. Accurate GIS information keeps utilities safely on the trail as they deploy and implement the UN model as well as an ADMS to grapple with increasingly dynamic grid conditions.
Before we delve into the importance of accurate GIS information, let's clarify a few key concepts that help set the context for GIS accuracy. There is a good case that the two most significant concepts are spatial accuracy and data attribution.
Spatial accuracy is a relative concept for many. What may be considered accurate for one use case may be unusable for another. Think of an individual using GIS on a countywide scale versus a user on an individual parcel of land. For an electric utility, the spatial accuracy typically must be within 5 feet. Items outside of this tolerance can cause ripple effects on the network and errors in materials estimating.
Attribution accuracy is less subjective and itself is made up of two components: completeness and correctness.
Complete GIS attribution means the data schema, or the list of attributes on the features, is filled out without missing items. Correctness means those attributes in the model are precise representations of real physical assets. As each utility is different, it is dependent on the GIS team to determine what attributes are considered critical versus those that are just nice to have.
The combination of completeness and correctness creates the complete picture of GIS attribution accuracy. This overall GIS accuracy encompasses critical information about the physical components of the distribution network. This includes details about substations, transformers, power lines, poles and other infrastructure elements. It's the digital blueprint of an electric utility's territory.
The UN is like a trusty hiking backpack, storing all your necessary geospatial items in an easy-to-access and organized location. It is a model that provides a detailed and scalable solution for modeling, managing and analyzing the utilities network.
ADMS operates like a skilled guide on a wilderness trek, keeping you safely on the trail, avoiding obstacles and optimizing your chances of reaching your energy distribution goals with precision. It relies heavily on accurate GIS information to make informed decisions about power distribution, outage management, and network optimization.
Now, let's shed light on why accurate GIS information is paramount prior to embarking on an ADMS implementation or migration to the UN:
Precise Network Representation. The UN model and ADMS operate based on network models that mimic the physical layout of the distribution network. Accurate GIS data enables these models to faithfully represent the actual infrastructure. Think of it as having an up-to-date map for a backwoods hike that allows you to take the correct trail when you reach a fork.
Reliable Decision Making. ADMS systems make split-second decisions to optimize the grid and respond to outages. The UN provides operators with a clear picture of the network, and its connected nature allows for decision making. These decisions are only as good as the data they rely on. With precise GIS information, ADMS and the UN can make timely, efficient and effective decisions.
Outage Management. When power outages occur, accurate GIS data helps these systems quickly identify the affected areas, locate faults and dispatch repair crews with pinpoint accuracy, sometimes in the middle of the night. This translates into faster restoration times, happier crews and customers.
Asset Management. Electric utilities must maintain and upgrade their infrastructure. Accurate GIS information allows utilities to plan and execute asset management strategies effectively. It helps determine when equipment needs maintenance or replacement, saving time and resources.
Customer Satisfaction. Customers demand reliable electricity, and precise GIS data allows utilities to provide better service. Accurate outage information, quicker response times and fewer service disruptions lead to improved customer satisfaction. For internal customers, precise and reliable GIS data builds interdepartmental trust and synergies.
Safety and Compliance. Reliable GIS data also plays a role in safety and compliance. Utilities must meet regulatory requirements, and accurate data is essential for demonstrating compliance and ensuring public safety.
Futureproofing. As the energy landscape evolves with the integration of renewable energy sources and smart grid technologies, having accurate GIS information becomes even more critical. It enables utilities to adapt to changing conditions and technologies effectively.
Implementing the UN model or an ADMS system built on accurate GIS information gives users the comfort of following a well-marked trail with clear signposts no matter whether the hike takes you through thick forests or open meadows.
The grid's efficiency, reliability, and the satisfaction of both utilities and consumers depend on having a solid foundation of accurate GIS data. So, before you embark on your large-scale implementations, let’s be sure your GIS information is reliable. Accurate GIS data is the compass you need to navigate the trail toward efficient power distribution for your entire service network.