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How modern GIS can help utilities to keep the power on!

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Rahul Krishna Pandey's picture
Principal Consultant - Business Process Services (BPS) Tech Mahindra

Helping business to innovate via sustained technology consulting. On mission to transform Energy and Utilities companies and operators through technical marketing, automation and process...

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  • Aug 22, 2019

This item is part of the Special Issue - 2019-09 - Distributed Energy Resources, click here for more

In the utility industry, power outages have been a critical problem. Due to storms and other severe weather conditions, it possesses a significant cause of system downtime. “Even a few days without power can cause huge economic loss, whereas households and industrial processes become vulnerable to prolonged periods without power.” What if utilities could predict and plan for future outages in advance and prevent downtime? Modern GIS is now powered by location Intelligence, predictive analytics with IoT/GoT, cloud and mobile technologies and form a System of insight, through deployment of such solution utilities companies can identify assets health and early warning of possible outages through proactively responding storms and other severe weather conditions, which would enable multifaceted operations intact and keep their customers happy ultimately.

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Over the past few decades, changes in weather patterns due to climate change or global warming led to more extreme, frequent, and costly weather events that have included intense rains, ice storms, tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, heatwaves, droughts, and wildfires. These events have caused hundreds of major power outages which have closed schools, shut down businesses, impeded emergency services.

The Expensive Power Outage

Both for customers and utilities more frequent power outages is a major concern that is becoming more expensive for the vast majority of businesses, on average, outages of four hours cost $10,000 to $20,000 and three-day outages can cost more than $50,000.  Eaton’s 2017 Blackout Tracker reports that in 2009 there were an estimated 2,840 outage events, affecting more than 13 million people. Fast-forward to 2017, and Eaton estimates that nearly 37 million people were affected 3,526 outage events.

S&C’s 2018 State of Commercial & Industrial Power Reliability report found that 18% of companies experienced a loss of more than $100,000 as a result of their worst outage. This problem is compounded by the increasing costs of power outages, particularly in the commercial and industrial customer class. Though manufacturers tend to take the biggest hits from long outages, the Financial Services, Healthcare, and Grocery sectors also see significant penalties, even for short outages.

According to the recent statistics of U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), it’s evident that on an average ‘’Severe Weather’’ is a predominant disturbance factor that causes ‘Loss of electric service to more than 50,000 customers for 1 hour or more’.

Predicting the Future

Doesn’t it make sense to predict the future and invest beforehand on the technologies to shun cost and time instead of investing huge millions after destruction? By understanding utility scope (bulleted below), we can brainstorm various GIS deployments which helps to meet utility’s operational objectives. Among those, implementing Modern GIS will facilitate keep your customers happy, while acting promptly utilities companies can predict power outages to save millions of dollars.

What if utility could...?

  • Forecast - areas that could be impacted by severe weather
  • Predict -  magnitude and frequency of an outage
  • Anticipate - spatio-temporal extent of potential damage
  • Locate - utility’s infrastructure / assets in geospatial form
  • Quantify -  cost/exposure that a utility could faces as a result of damage / system downtime
  • Enable - field crews with powerful tools to faster storm response and accelerate restorations

Changing Landscape of GIS

Even though this proves that GIS companies are already at the top of the world, there are challenges to be considered. Handling a huge volume of data is nothing easier like running automation software; the risks that amounted are high as well. It may not be the real-time data always and the plan you carry out based on the performed analytics will not be real. Identifying valid information could be an unpleasant process. In this case, detail-oriented framework must be prepared to work on various cloud applications and other open sources.

The world has been squashed into our hands, means gripping onto anything using mobile applications which are happening in GIS right now. GIS solution providers betting on mobile technologies for an enormous digital move, especially succeeding in mobile mapping which is saving time and cost. This tendency from Esri and Google Earth apps is been serving to capture and analyze the data anytime and anywhere instantly.

Modern GIS - A System of Insight

When utilities were able to provide uninterrupted power supply and can instantly respond to outage issues, they have already scored the customer-centricity and gained the loyalty. The combination of all high techs such as IoT, AI, cloud computing and mobile technology have disrupted the critical power outage management system and paved a way to improve even better.

These are futuristic promises that technology can save the utility operations. Location Intelligence with Predictive analytics and automation are going to disrupt the older processes and the term “Modern GIS” will take a new meaning.

It takes challenges and risks to adopt new technologies concurrently but the transformation will pay the price in the end. If the utilities are able to perform deep research, capable of investing at the right resource, it’s proposed to invest in the right customer-centric technological platform which suits the ultimate goal of the company.

So let’s have a look how integrated bricks when combines a location intelligence and predictive analytics with IoT, cloud and mobile technologies form an intact architecture of modern GIS that serves System of insight and enable customers and utilities both to stay digitally connected more often than usual on-demand basis.

Location Intelligence

Location Intelligence industry has grown from US$ 9 billion to around US$ 22 billion. By the year 2022, it is expected to almost double its numbers. The study by Carto states that 94% of C-level respondents said that their organization collects or stores location data. Location Intelligence is about utilizing geo-informational data to solve critical problems with the help of analytics for visually decision making.  The use of location intelligence is igniting much in GIS mapping and other GIS solutions providing companies as it comes as a huge part of Geographical study.

Robert Brook who has been in the infrastructure field for more than 20 years says understanding the location of your infrastructure is critical. All infrastructure “lives” within its geography. Location defines the equipment’s position in a sea of natural and man-made features. It is critical to every aspect of owning and maintaining infrastructure. Using location, you can assess risks, plan maintenance and replacement cycles, respond to emergencies and ensure damage prevention. Maintaining location decreases costs, removes delays and reduces the risk of operating.

Location intelligence combined with AI, Big data and business intelligence performs to streamline the expectations of users and the customer. For example, GIS data comprising information on storm effected area, location intelligence can analyze the data and provide deep study to locate and quantify utility’s assets in geospatial form and suggest how to prevent it further.

Predictive Analytics

Predictive analytics could help utilities in accuracy advancement when it comes to understanding any critical problems and decision making. This could also be the best investment for utilities in order to perform exceptionally well than of your competitors. So, how predictive analytics can save reduced restoration outages? There are various channels and sources where you can integrate weather data into your analytics system where you can accurately study your power lines correlated to the weather data. This will facilitate you to build designs for customer protection and how to fight those risks.

It’s impossible to always make the perfect preparation decision, but recent advances in weather artificial intelligence (AI) are helping utilities be more accurate with their power outage predictions by allowing them to forecast outages and not just weather as has traditionally been the case says Jim Foerster

      Source Forbes: This screen shot shows how a utility can use AI to use historical outage data and allow a computer to generate predictions for future needs based on forecasted weather conditions. DTN

      IoT / GoT

      The role of Internet of Things (IoT) in GIS is now coined as Geography of Things (GoT), which is the attention-grabbing subject in the GIS industry. While a lot, that GIS can do, there aren’t a restriction to build more powerful information for innovative assessments in businesses. Assimilating number of devices or tools into one across the internet through cloud applications, geographic information we receive tend to be more efficient and easier to put an end to operational issues even before we encounter them. With the instant connectivity of IoT, big data and machine learning sets its path to bring out any requirements that the user wants by connecting huge billions of data around the world.

      Let’s take a practical example of being offline that is a regular and frustrating experience for mobile field workers in utilities and Telcos around the globe. Solutions that rely solely on “the IoT” or “the cloud” will disappoint. Being caught out without offline capability in emergency situations is a very high risk activity, in particular for utility network restoration workers. An IoT solution with rich geospatial functionality developed by we-do-IT which works offline (sometimes connected) using self-healing BitTorrent synchronization, as well as on-line is of particular advantage over slow communication lines with remote depots in a large utility network infrastructure. 

      Image Courtesy we-do-IT : Geo-spatial network coverage.

      Web GIS and Enterprise Mobility

      In the WebGIS and enterprise mobility segment, RMSI developed an excellent solution known as Electronic Database & Information Management System (EDIMS), which is a GIS based platform to support clean energy rural electrification program to achieve carbon reduction emission. This solution successfully implemented in Uganda where 350+ users from government agencies, energy distribution service providers connected to EDIMS and 0.36 Million Households already electrified under program activities.

      Source RMSI : Dashboard display electrification statistics to track, analyze & monitor progress on ground. Web MapViewer display electric connections network overlaid with energy utility layers which generates dynamic Carbon Emission Reductions (CERs) reports and enable Energy Distribution Service Providers to collaborate and share electric connections and consumption data at central repository. MobileApp works in connected & disconnected mode and offer Real-time data synchronization to central repository.


      Globally, major utilities are successfully adopting the above technologies, while some are experimenting with the existing resources. Utilities will keep revolutionizing by taking advantage of the exponential growth in inventive technologies and that leads the systems, business process, operations strategies to roll out in a new form of modern GIS. 

      Rahul Krishna Pandey's picture
      Thank Rahul Krishna for the Post!
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      Matt Chester's picture
      Matt Chester on Aug 22, 2019

      Thanks for sharing, Rahul-- if AI and GIS tools can be utilized to mobilize and prevent downtime, that's a huge win for customers and utilities alike who rely on a stable and reliable grid. I'm curious if these type of predictive tools could likewise be used to predict days/weeks ahead weather in a way that would allow grid operators to prepare for the wealth or dearth of renewable (solar/wind) resources in a given day-- do you have any insights on that?

      Rahul Krishna Pandey's picture
      Rahul Krishna Pandey on Aug 23, 2019

      Appreciate your feedback Matt. Yes, That's sure thing to predict days/weeks ahead weather for grid operators to prepare in advance using historical data and ML tools, indeed in recent times this practice has been in progress, though it is complex process to track dynamic weather condtions impacted by climate change and global warming.

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