Welcome Your New Expert Interview Series: Esri’s Tom Coolidge, New Expert in the Digital Utility Group - [an Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Expert Interview]

Posted to Energy Central in the Digital Utility Group
image credit: Energy Central
Matt Chester's picture
Energy Analyst, Chester Energy and Policy

Official Energy Central Community Manager of Generation and Energy Management Networks. Matt is an energy analyst in Orlando FL (by way of Washington DC) working as an independent energy...

  • Member since 2018
  • 11,684 items added with 1,764,628 views
  • Sep 18, 2023

As the world stands on the cusp of an energy transition, traditional sectors are presented with unique challenges and opportunities. The natural gas industry, often at the intersection of debates surrounding decarbonization and energy security, is increasingly leaning on digital tools to reshape its narrative and meet future demands. Modern technologies, including Geographic Information Systems (GIS), are no longer mere support systems but vital catalysts for innovation and transformation.

Continuing our series of interviews with new members of our Network of Experts, with leading industry experts at Energy Central’s Power Perspectives, we are excited to introduce Tom Coolidge, Director of Gas and Pipeline Industry Solutions at Esri. A veteran with over four decades in the natural gas sector, Tom has been instrumental in driving innovations through leading software providers to the industry, both within the U.S. and internationally, and he joins us as the newest member of the Expert Network in the Digital Utility Group.

Your access to Member Features is limited.

Read on as Tom dives into the gas industry's future, the ever-evolving nature of enterprise GIS, and the collaborative spirit that is driving real change within the Energy Central Community.

Matt Chester: Thanks for agreeing to be one of our experts, Tom. Can you give your background in the industry so our community better understands what went into you being established as an expert?

Tom Coolidge: I have been active in the natural gas industry for more than 40 years through two of the leading software providers to the industry: first at Stoner Associates and now at Esri. And in those roles, I have been an executive and worked not just within the United States but in the industry globally.


MC: The Energy Central Community is already familiar with your colleagues as Esri, Bill Meehan and Pat Hohl, as two of our experts, but you’re coming from a different angle in the gas industry. What are the different types of projects that you are doing specific to the gas sector that separate you from the electric side of your peers?

TC: The electric and gas industries are very similar in some ways, but obviously the gas industry differs in the sense that most of its assets are underground. Additionally, the electric and gas sectors are subject to very different regulatory schemes. So, the combination of those two factors, among others, make the approach of them to GIS rather unique.

The other significant factor to consider is that gas networks operate very differently from electric networks, so from an operations point of view, there are very real differences in their behavior.


MC: While our energy systems are seeking to decarbonize and future proof, it puts gas companies in a unique position, still being necessary for our energy systems but being targeted by some as counter to net zero goals. What are you seeing in terms of new digital tools that are helping the gas sector to embrace cleaner energy tools?

TC: I think there are numerous ways that GIS is playing a significant role in that march to net zero. One clear way is being able to use enterprise GIS capabilities to tackle much more aggressively methane reduction, using tools like leak surveys and repair or replacement of pipes that are found to be leaking.

Additionally, a lot of the way forward is about the network being able to carry gases other than natural gas. So, from a planning and operations perspective, GIS is really helping the industry get a grip on what the future may look like if they distribute hydrogen blended into natural gas or just hydrogen, and generally how the networks can be used to carry other non-carbon or low-carbon fuel.

In total, the direction is clear towards net zero, with the journey to get there maybe being longer than some may wish. But GIS offers some tools to facilitate that journey.


MC: If you could offer a piece of advice to the utility industry broadly about what their approach should be in the coming years at this critical juncture of digitalization and the growth of GIS, what would it be?

TC: I think a key idea for utility executives is just to really understand how dramatically different enterprise GIS is today than even just a few years ago. And I think gas utilities that are going to be the highest performing gas utilities are the ones that are modernizing now. Because today's modern GIS really is way more future proof than ever before, so getting your ducks in a row modernizing now really will make sure you have the capabilities you need when you need rather than waiting and having a lag since you are not modern. Overall, business agility is a key to the future, and that requires a modern GIS to be in place.


MC: Why did you feel compelled to get more involved in the Energy Central Community? And what value do you hope to bring to your peers on the platform?  

TC: I think most of the real advances and how software solutions can help the gas industry have evolved through strong collaboration between contributors. That active collaboration is what we seek to participate in and I welcome the opportunity to engage with everybody else who feel similarly. Together we can make a real difference.


Thanks to Tom Coolidge for joining me for this interview and for providing a wealth of insights and expertise to the Energy Central Community. You can trust that Tom will be available for you to reach out and connect, ask questions, and more as an Energy Central member, so be sure to make him feel welcome when you see her across the platform.

The other expert interviews that we’ve completed in this series can be read here, and if you are interested in becoming an expert, you can reach out to me or you can apply here.

Audra Drazga's picture
Audra Drazga on Sep 21, 2023

Welcome to the Experts Network and team!  I look forward to seeing you in the community!  

Get Published - Build a Following

The Energy Central Power Industry Network® is based on one core idea - power industry professionals helping each other and advancing the industry by sharing and learning from each other.

If you have an experience or insight to share or have learned something from a conference or seminar, your peers and colleagues on Energy Central want to hear about it. It's also easy to share a link to an article you've liked or an industry resource that you think would be helpful.

                 Learn more about posting on Energy Central »