Geospatial Technology Plays a Critical Role in the Electric Power Industry

Geospatial data and technology, including LiDAR plays a critical role in the energy industry, in general. I would like to outline just a few examples where geospatial technology plays a key enabling role in the electric power industry.

Residential, commercial, and public buildings account for one-third of the globe’s total final energy consumption, but 80% of the energy efficiency potential of buildings remains untapped. As a result improving the energy efficiency of buildings, both existing and new structures, has become a global priority for governments and power utilities.

As an example of the application of geospatial technology in improving energy efficiency, energy density mapping is helping Horizon Utilities in Hamilton, Ontario to target their mandated Conservation and Demand Management (CDM) program on buildings with the highest energy footprints. To meet the low carbon objectives mandated for all 77 Ontario power utilities by the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) Horizon Utilities partnered with public organizations who could provide them with detailed building and property information such as building age, sun exposure, heating type, air conditioning, and geospatial data including building locations and spatial demographics which they use to perform energy density mapping at the building level.

Energy performance analysis helps architects and engineers to optimize energy usage of new buildings, often motivated by programs such as LEED certification. Starting with a simplified BIM that contains the key elements of the building, the geographical location of the building and surrounding natural and man-made structures and the local environmental conditions, an energy performance analysis of the building is used to estimate how much energy the building will consume in a year and test different design options (insulation, glazing, natural daylight, wind simulation, and ventilation) to identify best passive solutions, compare low-carbon technologies, and draw conclusions on energy use, CO2 emissions, occupant comfort, light levels, airflow, and LEED certification level.

Alabama Power installed over a million smart meters and supporting AMI in its operating area to help differentiate between network and customer-induced outages, thereby significantly reducing the number of truck rolls. But they found even greater benefits when tornadoes hit their service area in April, 2011 completely destroying two substations, flattening transmission pylons, breaking 7500 poles, and leaving 400,000 customers without power. By using Google Maps to display which smart meters could not be read after the tornadoes, Alabama Power was able to put together a detailed picture of where power has been lost – all without making telephone calls.

To gain the full advantage of smart grid-related enterprise systems such as AMI, outage management systems (OMS), data analytics and workforce management systems, utilities are finding that integration with geographic information systems (GIS) is a key step. For example, integrating AMI and GIS makes it possible to link the utility’s service points and metered accounts with customers’ physical addresses. Once a utility has reliably linked service points to customers physical addresses and geolocation, they find that a whole range of other systems can be integrated with the AMI and GIS, including the outage management system (OMS), data analytics and the work management system.

A smart grid typically involves integrating a SCADA system; smart meters reporting power use every 15 minutes, intelligent electronic devices, bidirectional communications, self healing networks, distributed generation, and electric vehicle (EV) charging stations. The volume of data generated by smart grid networks is estimated to be 10,000 times greater than for our existing electrical networks, and much of the data is real-time. Managing large volumes of real-time data from sensors is simplified by integration with geospatial technology that allows real-time monitoring and decision making. Burlington Hydro’s (BHI) real-time, geospatially-enabled smart grid operations and management system integrates with their existing enterprise systems and provides a common point of access to all their operational data.

The deployment of solar PV is accelerating around the world. A type of geospatial imagery called oblique imagery allows contractors to determine whether or not a home or commercial building is suitable for mounting solar panels. Contractors can view and measure available roof space, determine the tilt and direction of the roof, and even identify obstacles that could make installation difficult or cause shade problems. This speeds up the installation process, thus saving contractors time and money, while reducing carbon emissions.

To support increased renewable generation it has been estimated that the United States needs an additional 50,000 miles of transmission lines. The Obama administration has announced pilot projects to streamline the permitting of transmission lines, to speed up integration of renewables. Software tools for designing transmission lines integrate supporting structures, wires, a digital terrain model, planimetric maps, aerial photographs, LiDAR, and other geospatial data to help site the line in the most economical, environmentally friendly, and visually minimalist way to minimize the visual impact of the line on local land owners.

One of the most important goals of utilities in this time of an aging workforce is improving the productivity of operations staff. Many utilities are finding that many tasks that used to require sending staff into the field can now be done much more efficiently in the office. Using different types of geospatial imagery including oblique imagery, Streetview, laser-scanning and high resolution orthophotography can provide operators most if not all the information they require without leaving the office. This enables utilities to dramatically the number of truck rolls and costs. In those cases when a field inspection is necessary, imagery enables field staff to be better prepared when they do go to the field, so they can get the job done faster.

To prevent outages due to vegetation encroaching on transmission lines, utilities laser scan transmission lines using a fixed-wing or helicopter-based platform. These LiDAR data collection platforms can be configured to provide the required point densities and accuracies to model vegetation encroachments from LiDAR point clouds. Semi-automated processing is used to identify pylons and wires and vegetation which are entered into a GIS-based asset management system. Vegetation encroachments are classified into multiple priority categories based on their risk of casing an outage to the line. The risk and estimated cost of remediation can be used to optimize a work plan for managing vegetation encroachment.

These are all examples showing the critical role that geospatial data and technology plays in the energy industry improving the management of energy infrastructure to help address the challenge of increasing economic development while at the same time reducing the environmental impact by improved energy efficiency.

About the Author

Geoff Zeiss, Ph.D

Geoff Zeiss, Ph.D... has more than 20 years experience in the geospatial software industry and 15 years experience working with utilities, communications, and public works in enterprise geospatial IT around the world. Previously Geoff was responsible for thought leadership and industry messaging for the utility industry program at Autodesk. Over the past five years Geoff has spoken at conferences and trade shows around the world including Geospatial World Forum, Where 2.0, Location Intelligence, India Geospatial Forum and Distributech. Principal, Between the Poles
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