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GIS and the Utility Sector

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Increasingly, the world of utilities is becoming more digital and that's opening up many new possibilities and opportunities for the forward-looking and innovative grid actors. Chief among the digital utility tools is GIS or geographic information systems. GIS enables utilities to stay more informed and connected about their assets across the grid, and necessary actions on the grid become more immediate, more cost-effective, and more trackable. 

As a GIS Administrator with TenneT TSO GmbH, Sabine Tiefel has advanced GIS into new services and integrated the technology with appropriate data management and data analytics. As a thought leader in GIS, Sabine was kind enough to share her insights and thoughts about GIS today and in the future of the utility industry. Keep reading on to see Sabine's perspective in her own words. And when you’re done, please join us in thanking her for her work and even leave a comment for her below (where you’re also invited to ask her questions or just leave her a comment with your thoughts).


On the Importance of Utility-Focused GIS:

The German transmission grid is undergoing major transformation due to changes in energy policy.  GIS can provide an important contribution, by helping to manage the many big and small changes. In the past, transmission grids were less dynamic than today and there was little need for geographic data and visualizations. With the expansion of the grid, the number of parties and connections involved has drastically increased, for which geographic information systems offer the opportunity to share complex information and relationships in an easy to understand manner. For example, for risk analyses: GIS allows the overlay of environmental data such as weather forecasts and flood zones with asset data, so that risks can be predicted quite accurately and mitigation steps can be taken. Experts for geodata are needed to support all these developments.  Personally, I greatly enjoy working with this type of data and the value that it adds to our company and customers.


On Challenges from the First Cross-Border TSO in Europe and How GIS Came into Play

"TenneT is responsible for the high voltage electricity transmission grid in the Netherlands and for a large portion of it in Germany. Our grid has connection points to other transmission system operators in Germany, to distribution system operators with lower voltage, to industrial customers, and to neighboring countries. Being a cross-border TSO can have its challenges but nothing major that cannot be overcome. The primary areas to watch for are software/data compatibility as well as legal differences.

With respect to software and data compatibility, GIS allows for information-sharing across geographic borders. By visualizing important grid aspects across the entire grid, GIS contributes to breaking down barriers via shared technology standards. An example: The project Trassen2030 serves to prepare the long-term offshore grid expansion in the North Sea. The transmission system operators Amprion and TenneT are working together to identify geographic areas at the coast of the German North Sea that are suitable for offshore grid connection systems. Using GIS software, service providers and TenneT evaluate the suitability of potential route corridors and compare them against each other. And, should a shared data format between two companies not exist, there are nowadays plenty of software solutions available to provide workarounds and that can easily be incorporated into GIS."


On Asset Data Lifecycle

"The EU climate protection targets envision that energy consumption will be more and more covered by renewable energies sources such as wind or solar. TenneT contributes to this goal by building offshore wind platforms to cover the energy demand in Germany. In our GIS system we therefore include and plan for the locations of these platforms as well as sea cables and their realistic route. The ability to visualize assets and understand spatial relationships provides a major advantage for planning continued development of the grid as well as risk evaluation. As such, GIS analyses will always play a role in the asset lifecycle."


On the Future of GIS in Utilities

"Through progressive integration with enterprise resource planning systems (ERP), GIS will be further adopted across other business units within companies. It will become more and more part of day-to-day life and will no longer be seen as a tool only used by experts. Data on the current state of assets and risk analyses can be linked with GIS data to allow for better planning of resources."


Advice for Those Starting on Utility GIS

"GIS can help explain complex subject matters in an easy to understand manner, by visualizing data so that conclusions can be drawn. Changes over time can also be visualized by GIS. Such graphical representations can support the daily work of utility operators, who are facing increasingly complex requirements. As such, I highly recommend utility management professionals to embrace this as a tool in their toolkit."

Sabine Tiefel's picture

Thank Sabine for the Post!

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on May 18, 2020 1:37 pm GMT

It will become more and more part of day-to-day life and will no longer be seen as a tool only used by experts. Data on the current state of assets and risk analyses can be linked with GIS data to allow for better planning of resources.

What do you think will be the key to this evolution-- is GIS going to be ingrained in the more basic training exercises? Or included as a core functionality learned at relevant schools, even for those who aren't as in depth in the digital tools of utilities? 

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