GIS can help you answer tough smart grid questions
Smart grid is about four things:
- Smart meters—Smart grid gives us more information about the energy we use. Smart meters will help us use less energy. Consequently, we will save money and reduce our carbon footprints.
- Better electric reliability—Our electric infrastructure is old and fallible. Smart grid includes smart sensors to help utilities locate problems and help the electric utility grid heal itself.
- Making green energy work—Solar and wind power are quite different from the traditional sources of electricity such as hydro, coal, natural gas, and nuclear. Like the weather, green resources are unpredictable. Smart grid will work to regulate the ebb and flow of renewable energy.
- Smart grid phone home—By tapping telecommunication networks, smart grid will alert utilities to problems before they even happen.
Along with the good of smart grid come the complex questions. These questions are new to utilities, customers, and regulators. How will we differentiate meters that are accurately reporting power failures from those that are faulty? What will happen when a major storm knocks out the electric system and the monitoring system at the same time? What will utilities do if customers don’t want to adjust their behavior, or they revolt over privacy issues? How will utilities maintain more equipment when a bulk of the workforce is retiring soon? How will utilities deal with increased maintenance and capital costs?
These are tough questions.
The first step in finding answers is to accurately assess the situation. Let’s take a look at current and future infrastructure assets—evaluate their condition and relationship to the community. We can do this by creating a complete model of the electric network in a geographic information system (GIS). With all our data tied to location and visible on one GIS-based map, we then use GIS analysis tools to plan and prioritize. Most utilities today have some form of GIS, but few really use GIS to resolve sticky strategic issues.
It is time for utilities to take stock in GIS, to make sure their data and operating picture is ready to drive the smart grid.