Geospatial Poised to Become a Foundation Technology for the Smart Grid

GIS is currently applied tactically by utilities in a number of areas. For example, GIS has been widely used by utilities for years for automated mapping/facilities management, back office records management, asset management, transmission line siting, and more recently for design and construction, energy conservation, vegetation management, mobile workforce management (MWFM), and outage management (OMS). Utilities are beginning to integrate GIS with automated meter infrastructure (AMI) and supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems.

An analysis by Navigant Research (Pike Research) makes the case that with the accelerating deployment of smart grid technology, GIS will become a foundation technology for interoperable grid operations. "The smart grid is all about situation awareness and effective anticipation of and response to events that might disrupt the performance of the power grid. Since spatial data underlies everything an electric utility does, GIS is the only foundational view that can potentially link every operational activity of an electric utility including design and construction, asset management, workforce management, and outage management as well as supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), distribution management systems (DMSs), renewables, and strategy planning.

Navigant forecasts that the increasing penetration of GIS into smart grid workflow applications, such as MWFM, DMS, energy management systems (EMS), OMS, customer information systems (CIS), and analytics will be the primary driver for electric utility GIS software and services growth. Navigant forecasts that the utility GIS market will grow at an annual rate (CAGR) of 12.8%, increasing from $1.8 billion in 2011 to $3.7 billion in 2017. This is supported by an analysis by Research and Markets entitled Global GIS market in the Utility industry 2012 – 2016 which projects that the utility GIS market will grow at a CAGR of 10.37 percent over the period 20122016. Research and Markets sees one of the key factors driving this market growth is the growing need for knowledge infrastructure.

At the Second Annual Summit on Data Analytics for Utilities in Toronto, Brad Williams, Vice President of Utilities Industry Strategy at Oracle, made the case for spatial analytics becoming a key technology because everything a utility does (customers, assets, and operations) involves location. Brad outlined a number of specific areas where spatial analytics is being applied including reducing non-technical losses, targeting demand response, distribution operations planning, transformer load management, data quality, voltage correlation (linking meters to transformers), energy modeling, voltage deviation monitoring, geographical outage frequency analysis, and predictive analytics for electric vehicle adoption to name just a few. The divide between the information technology (IT) and operations technology (OT) sides of the business is an inhibitor to smart grid adoption. Navigant argues that GIS is a critical technology in bringing these two sides of the business together.

Navigant has identified some challenges to the effective adoption and use of GIS in the electric utility including the quality of utility geolocation data, the loss of GIS knowledge and skills through retirement, and the current GIS vendor ecosystem. Research and Markets specifically identifies the lack of awareness about utility GIS in developing countries as a potential inhibitor to market growth.

Navigant cites a history of poor GIS data quality as a major problem in the utility industry and reports that poor GIS data quality is an area of significant concern for smart grid planners who intend to use GIS as a foundational data layer for interoperable grid operational processes.

At a recent conference a speaker from a Canadian power utility emphasized that a key prerequisite for a successful data-driven analytical approach for utilities is quality data. His utility found that when they started to make investment decisions based on their analysis of their operational data, the deficiencies in their data sets immediately become apparent. For example, they found that only 76 % of their connectivity data was reliable, the remaining quarter was unusable.

Navigant estimates that 60% of all electric utility employees work in the field on assets that have spatial attributes. It also points out that managing a field workforce is a significant challenge, when data including location about assets in the field are missing or incorrect.

A critical factor is depth and quality of the skills, tools, and solutions that are available to support GIS-based applications. The traditional vendors in this space are Esri, Intergraph, Autodesk, Bentley, GE/Smallworld, and Oracle, but Navigant and others foresees the integration of IT and OT to support smart grid transforming the market through mergers and acquisitions. The effect will be to dramatically increase the size of the geospatially-enabled utility application market.

Navigant sees geospatial-related analytics (spatial analytics) as one of the keys to success for electric utility operations in the smart grid era. Looking for patterns and correlations between different land, weather, terrain, assets, and other types of geodata will be increasingly important for utilities. Power-related analytics with geospatial components include network fault tracing, load flow analysis, Volt/VAR analysis, real-time disaster situational awareness, condition-based maintenance, and vegetation management.

Geospatial data is also critical for analytics relating to long-term power system evolution. Predictive analytics, analyzing structured and unstructured data sources to uncover patterns in the data that can be used to identify issues before they occur, is a growing area but this will require high performance computing to enable it to be applied to its full potential.

One of the major challenges facing utilities is siloed GISs. Navigant argues that "GIS usage in smart grid applications will demand a high degree of accuracy and timely, synchronized updates, which will be difficult to orchestrate in a federated environment. Ultimately, utilities will have to implement a GIS repository of record that supports smart grid requirements." This means that the stage is set for a transformation in how utilities use GIS that will make it a foundation for managing the smart grid and for fully realizing the benefits of smart grid technology.