Location Technology Forms the Foundation for Grid Modernization

Posted to Esri in the Grid Professionals Group
Bill Meehan's picture
Director, Utility Solutions Esri

William (Bill) Meehan is the Director of Utility Solutions for Esri. He is responsible for business development and marketing Esri’s geospatial technology to global electric and gas utilities.A...

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  • May 26, 2021

This item is part of the Grid Modernization - May 2021 SPECIAL ISSUE, click here for more

Authors: Bill Meehan and Pat Hohl 

How are utilities dealing with shrinking revenues, rising costs, and skyrocketing customer demands while strengthening resiliency? The answer: create a tougher, smarter, more secure, and healthier grid. Location technology anchors Grid Modernization (GM). Without solid data about where assets are, their relationships to other assets, any GM program will fall short. It provides an understanding of, engagement with, and insight into nearly all dimensions of grid operations.

A modern GIS applies location technology to enable new results—solutions that run on any device, devour idle data, and display cutting-edge analytics with wonderful visualization.

What's the Problem?

If utilities continue to operate as they have done in the past, they will continue to experience the same problems that have always plagued them.

Several factors are forcing modernization efforts:

  • Outages. According to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), the duration and frequency of outages are increasing.
  • The grid is old.
  • Renewable energy is growing fast.
  • Governments deregulated markets.
  • Utilities are technology-dependent.
  • Customers demand better service and value.

These challenges are tough, but they are not insurmountable. They call for changes that demand a better understanding of grid behavior and customer expectations.

Despite the pressures, the grid produces more data than ever before. Data is the raw material for much-needed insights. Best-selling author, Dave McComb in his recent book, Data Centric Revolution quips that “We are at a turning point in the way we manage information. Every year, the amount of information available to an enterprise doubles, while the ability to use it decreases.

GIS puts that data in context. Why? Nearly everything a utility does happens somewhere. GIS brings understanding from data.

Traits of a Modern Grid

The US Department of Energy (DOE) 2017 Grid Modernization Initiative noted that a modern grid must have these traits:

  • "Greater resilience to hazards of all types
  • Improved reliability for everyday operations
  • Enhanced security from an increasing and evolving number of threats
  • Additional affordability to maintain our economic prosperity
  • Superior flexibility to respond to the variability and uncertainty of conditions at one or more time scales, including a range of energy futures, and
  • Increased sustainability through additional clean and energy-efficient resources"

Every day, utilities generate all kinds of valuable data about their business. These all contain raw material to make decisions about the grid. Add new data from smart meters, equipment monitors, drones, and vehicles. The challenge is to take this unfiltered digital raw material and turn it into actions that will produce the desired grid features.

"The utility industry is trying to figure out how to get smarter. It's a major dilemma for this industry, but the change is unstoppable."—Allan Schurr, Vice President, Strategy and Development, IBM Global Energy & Utilities Industry

Location: A Common Theme

The traits of a modern grid have one thing in common: location. Location yields perspective; most utility processes revolve around where they occur.

Where are the distributed energy resources (DERs)? Where is the grid vulnerable? Where are customers behaving differently?

GIS provides the foundation. Grid modernization relies heavily on an intense understanding of the physical aspects of the grid. It requires understanding the behavior and the vulnerabilities of the grid.

GIS provides the technology to help utilities improve and manage the grid in three unique ways:

  1. Unifies IT/OT
  2. Leverages spatial analysis
  3. Delivers operational awareness

Unifies IT/OT

Utilities struggle with siloed systems. Many different systems primarily operate alone. They need to be brought together for an inclusive operational picture. GIS joins almost any data by location, working to unify information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) systems.

Typical utility systems have both strengths and limitations:

  • Supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems manage schematic real-time information from monitoring and control devices. Those devices include substation breakers, relays, instruments, and meters.
  • Enterprise asset management (EAM) systems handle the asset life cycle. They cannot manage the spatial relationship of assets to each other or outside factors.
  • Advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) processes customer consumption. It only understands customer addresses. It does not know their relationship to the grid.
  • Advanced Distribution Management System (ADMS) manages the operational model of the distribution system. It does not have a view of the structural elements or the transmission system.
  • Customer information systems (CIS) have a wealth of information about customers. This includes their address and consumption patterns. They lack the customer's connection to the electrical network.

Independent systems each hold an important piece of the big picture. However, they can't bring the pieces together.

Utilities need to look at aggregate performance, correlate facts, and relate activity to location.

GIS will not replace any IT or OT system. What it will do is bring them together. It reveals the relationship of one data source to another. It can even consume services from outside the utility, such as weather information, imagery, demographics, crime data, and other Internet of Things (IoT) services, into a single environment.

GIS brings together SCADA, ADMS, and customer data. It adds more from EAM for work locations. It takes all this information, analyzes it by location, and visualizes it on any device. It truly unifies IT and OT.

GIS paints a complete picture for informed decision-making.

ArcGIS can bring together completely different IT/OT systems.

Leverages Spatial Analysis

Once data is collected from a variety of sources, GIS adds significant value using spatial analytics. It does more than just present data. Spatial analysis uncovers patterns and trends that simple visualization cannot.

GIS delivers the following analytical capabilities:

  • Risk assessment—Risk is vulnerability plus consequences. Spatial analysis addresses both. GIS consumes data from many sources. This includes load flow, short circuit, and stability studies. It uses statistics, science, and big data analytics to find vulnerability. It then examines where that vulnerability will have the greatest negative impact on the network and the community it serves.
  • Imagery processing—GIS processes images to provide insight into the surrounding environment. Using spectral analysis and change detection, it can quickly uncover issues hidden from the naked eye.
  • Machine learning/Artificial intelligence (AI)—In combination with imagery and video, GIS uncovers imminent failures. Using machine learning, utilities scan thousands of devices in seconds to locate dangers lurking in their network.
  • Big data analysis—GIS has built-in tools to manage big data coming from sensors. It can handle unstructured data from a variety of sources.

"GIS is not just about maps. Spatial data analysis solves real business problems."—Comfort Manyame, Ph.D., GISP Senior Manager, Data & Business Intelligence, Mid-South Synergy

Delivers Operational Awareness

Operational awareness is knowing about what is happening and analyzing its impacts. Sound data and analytics form a foundation from which to make realistic predictions and gain insights to drive informed grid decisions. For optimal business value, those insights are shared with all stakeholders based on their role.

GIS delivers operational awareness with these capabilities:

  • Network visualization—An electrical network can be thought of as the world's most complex machine. It has millions of elements. A modern GIS represents them all in full detail—a strategic new capability.
  • Deep information access—Augment your network data with rich information sources. Add inputs from smart cities, other utilities, satellites or drones, and traffic services. This kind of information brings an uncommon depth of business insight.
  • Real-time awareness—The key to operational awareness is timeliness. In addition to the real-world model of the network and its surrounding environment, GIS accesses real-time data to immediately give decision-makers a view of what is going on at any given moment.
  • Broad dissemination—Operational awareness must be shared to any device, anywhere, at any time.

"The goal is to turn data into information, and information into insight."—Carly Fiorina

A Basis for Solutions

GIS is about much more than making maps; it is the basis for grid modernization solutions. ArcGIS is a comprehensive enterprise business system. It is designed to be secure and scalable. Utilities around the world are using it to build strategic location-aware capabilities as a foundation for grid modernization, business refinements, and customer engagement.

Truly comprehensive models of utility systems are based on ArcGIS Utility Network. They enable smooth data compilation and compelling analytics. When solutions are visualized clearly and shared widely, they make it possible to advance grid and infrastructure modernization efforts. Find more helpful grid modernization resources visit our web page.


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