GIS – A single source of truth for the utility asset lifecycle
Traditionally, within the electric utilities, GIS has primarily been a tool for asset managers to access basic information about the physical nature of their network i.e. where assets are located, and what they are connected to. However, the development of the smart grid is changing the parameters for the role of asset management, and consequently the requirements for utility GIS.
It is no secret that the demands being placed on asset management teams are becoming more strenuous. With the growing decentralization of the energy system, utilities must content with a vastly more complex flow of power through their grids. The advent of the prosumer means multi-directional electricity flow, and with budgets ever-tightening, there is pressure on the grid to run closer to capacity and deal with sudden changes in demand. Furthermore, reinforcements and upgrades to the grid must be targeted at the most needed locations, even as the future evolution of the energy system grows less predictable.
There is therefore a growing need to streamline the asset lifecycle management process in order to ensure maximum ROI. For many, the development of advanced GIS with a wider suite of functionality presents the solution for asset managers looking to consolidate their view of the network. During my research carried out with electric utility specialists across the EMEA region, over 80% indicated that they wanted to utilize GIS to support a greater portion, or even all of the asset lifecycle. The first step is of course the planning stage. GIS modules supporting network design allow grid planners to build new assets directly into the GIS, conforming to their network model and automatically connecting with the rest of the network. Integration with ERP systems then allows for the automatic generation of work orders for field crews, either internally or even potentially for contractors – ensuring the best possible translation of plans into the physical grid. Utilizing GPS along with mobile applications allows this as-built asset to immediately be updated back to the GIS, so that the real-world conditions for each cable and substation are reflected accurately in the GIS.
Furthermore, GIS can also enable improved oversight of the performance and health of assets. Integration of GIS with SCADA and (A)DMS will allow the monitoring of conditions within the network, both supporting asset management and also enabling predictive tools to support targeted maintenance and preventative outage management strategies. Speaking of maintenance, the intuitive nature of GIS makes it perfectly suited to support maintenance dashboard, with critical information on asset performance, age, and even local geography all just a click away. Looking further forward, integration of these tools could allow the complete automation of maintenance planning, based on the real state of the network instead of arbitrary routine. In this way, GIS could provide a window onto the entire asset lifecycle, allowing piece of mind for asset managers around the world.
With that being said, there are many challenges which stand between utilities and this GIS-enabled utopia. First of all, agreement must be reached on the hierarchy of data ownership between network systems, ensuring master data is constantly kept up to date and pushed through to other systems through robust interfaces. Additionally, no utilities will be willing to change or automate such critical business processes until they are sure of reliable performance.
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