ArcGIS Utility Network

Modernization of Utilities and the Supporting Role of GIS

Modernization of utilities is pervasive across the globe.  As a whole, the power delivery industry is transitioning to improved methods and technology due to regulatory and social pressures.  This trend can be seen across all industries and in most countries.  For example, hydrocarbon-based power plants are outfitted with improved systems for emission reduction or capture.  There is a greater dependency on modern renewable generation such as solar, wind, and improved hydro facilities (eg. pump stations).  For system operators, telemetry devices enable remote control for rapid response during service disruptions and to improve customer service.  Examples of such devices include Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) and Advanced Metering Instrument (AMI).

Many of the newer methods and systems have a strong spatial component.  Engineers maintain and construct new lines and stations with more powerful tools for a richer understanding of the construction impact on the local environment.  Geospatial technology enables better communication between engineers responsible for routing, surveyors identifying the centerline, and construction of the facilities.  Field crews have remote mapping tools to ensure the proper equipment is available for maintenance and traversing environmentally sensitive areas.  Customer service teams leverage improved technology for optimal routing in the event of trouble and service calls, and develop deeper relationships with communities.  Business development teams use information from across the organization to provide incentives for sustainable community growth for their regions. For managing these changes, utilities moved from systems where information is secured locally to an enterprise approach to information management.  A good example of how utilities are undergoing the transition can be found here: The Fourth Industrial Revolution Empowered by End-to-End Electric Power System.


Technology is Responding to the Changes

In most instances, utilities track their assets in various databases or specialized platforms based on the purpose of the facilities.  Those assets have spatial elements or components that are included within their respective tables.   For example, above-ground power line systems, poles, stations, and protective devices all have precise geographic location data. Data scientists now leverage Geographic Information Systems (GIS) teams to analyze, visualize, and manage user-focused solutions for supporting engineers.  GIS technology is exemplary for the use of big data systems such as telemetry, including AMI or SCADA.  Telemetric data is exemplified by remote meters or devices that track system changes over time.  System operators are overwhelmed with large volumes of telemetric data, geospatial enrichment provides system context, trends, and patterns for analysis.  The ability to fully integrate geospatial enrichment into system data for operators and field crews has created a powerful technology platform for response and reliability.

Image 1. System Control Center

If geospatial solutions have improved the operational response, it can be considered a game-changer for engineering and routing new facilities.  Terrain and topography play a significant role in the effectiveness of siting and reducing the environmental footprint of new assets.  It’s also a powerful tool for communicating environmentally sensitive locations such as wetlands or culturally sensitive regions such as cemeteries.  GIS has a long history of supporting asset management through field inspections and reliability programs through an array of solutions. This modernization of utilities comes in many flavors.  For example, most forms of Enterprise Asset Management (EAM) include spatial information for rapid response and repair by maintenance engineers.  When it comes to logistics and resources, Enterprise Resource Planning tools are significantly enriched using spatial information.  Integrating available GIS data such as the ArcGIS Living Atlas of the World, or demographics from the American Community Survey enriches all of the above opportunities.

Utility GIS In the Modern Enterprise
Figure 1. Utility GIS In the Modern Enterprise

Increasing the Return on Investment of Data and Systems

The modernization of utilities and information science takes many forms.  Data acquisition, for example, is one of the most resource-intensive and costly elements of engineering. Airborne imagery of assets can provide insight and context for new construction, environmental mitigation, and land management.   Serving and managing both active and historical imagery can be challenging at best.  The ArcGIS Image Server for ArcGIS Enterprise enables next-generation imagery management for utilities supporting the entire organization.  For precise survey and LIDAR elevation data, ArcGIS Pro provides a rich user experience for dense elevation data.  Survey centerline, station and offset data traditionally was limited to survey teams.  Linear Referencing tools in ArcGIS Pro enable survey data to be shared with right of way and encroachment groups.  All these tools enable organizations to increase the return on investment of costly data by sharing across the business.

Asset management is one of the most significant opportunities to increase return on investment.  The ability to gain deeper insight into spatial trends and patterns of facility reliability is the path toward prescriptive maintenance.  Asset lifecycle and maintenance programs can be delivered with greater precision by visualizing customer load and asset failure patterns.  Easements and encroachments can be managed with greater precision and directed based on geospatially enriched engineering data.  The ArcGIS Parcel Fabric when used in conjunction with utility assets enables high-precision right-of-way data to reduce land acquisition costs in urban environments.

With modern AMI, utilities have greater insight into usage and patterns of operational data.  This information is used for measuring system reliability and enabling optimized power quality based on usage and customer behaviors.  This pattern of usage data can be leveraged for promoting customer incentive programs, reduce asset management costs by focusing on improvements, and enable new construction with the intent of minimizing the impact to local environments.  Integrating that information with open-source data such as demographics and social media feeds can be a powerful tool for business and community development teams.  Information systems leverage all this rich data for greater insight into customer engagement and patterns of operational performance.  Having that deeper understanding helps engineers focus on new infrastructure growth, reduce the environmental footprint of new construction, and support sustainable municipalities for their customers.

Modernization of Utilities

The modernization of utilities can be evidenced by the expanded use of rich data, powerful user-focused GIS and business information systems, and a strong eye on environmental mitigation.  Regulatory and social pressures toward smart and sustainable communities require engineers to have an increased dependency upon information for decision-making.  The ArcGIS Enterprise provides a wealth of smart maps, applications, and methods of communicating that rich data for users.  The reduction of information silos and collaborative environments in utilities has a positive impact on the primary drivers of utilities, regardless of industry.  Safety, reliability, and an improved customer experience are all benefited by sharing a deeper and more performant level of operational and informational data systems.

Image 2. Installing rooftop solar photovoltaic panel system.

About the authors

Remi is the Product Manager for the ArcGIS Utility Network and spends his free time exploring the US Southwest desert and California beaches.

Melissa is an engineer on the product team focused in applied geography. She can be found hiking and exploring national parks during her travels.

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