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GIS Supports 5 Utility Trends for 2021

Posted to Esri in the Digital Utility Group
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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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  • Jan 27, 2021 5:30 pm GMT
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This item is part of the Special Issue - 2021-01 - State of the Industry, click here for more

I guess you could call 2020 the year of the tridemic. The three big “C’s” of 2020 were civil unrest, climate calamities and COVID-19. I was directly impacted by all three. My house was within 1 mile of a major protest. It was a few miles from a wildfire evacuation. My daughter, her husband and their baby were sickened by the pandemic. (They have since recovered.)

The three “C’s” materially impact utilities. My hope is they will begin to address the three C’s in 2021. Location technology will be a key. Where are their opportunities for carbon reduction? Where can we improve the utility infrastructure? Where are their imbalances in outage, storm and COVID response? Where can we assure that our zeal does not negatively impact the disadvantaged?

Trend 1 - The Exponential Rise in Distributed Energy Resources (DER’s)

Late last year, FERC issued its final rule, Order 2222. It makes DER aggregators equal parties in the wholesale electricity market. DER’s are mostly renewables. The impact will be dramatic on energy production and on greenhouse gas reduction. This rule lifts regulatory burdens off DERs. The impact? The market will go crazy.

Where does GIS fit in?

We can locate DER’s everywhere and anywhere. They will require a different kind of management. Where are they? How much power can they generate? How much sun shines on them? How windy is it near them? It will help them place batteries in the right places. GIS gives owners the ability to capture all kinds of data about their operations. It will give developers what they need to locate them in the best spots. Utilities will figure out where the hundreds, maybe thousands of DER’s connect to their network. It will help them run their networks.

Trend 2 – The Electrification of the Transportation Sector

California ‘s executive order N-79-20 bans the sale of gas-powered passenger cars by 2035 and trucks by 2045. It also supports sustainable rail projects. It supports pedestrian, bicycle and micro-mobility options. The plan is careful not to disadvantage low income and disadvantage communities.

Other states will surely follow suit.

GIS can help. It shows us how to proceed. It understands the road networks. It sees where freeways pollute neighborhoods. It will help us set goals. It gives roadmaps to help sellers and buyers. It supports the supply chain. And it helps to show us how well we are doing. This all begins in 2021.

This is the good news, great news story for utilities. Electric vehicles will dominate zero emission vehicles creating a huge demand for electricity and delivery infrastructure.

Trend 3 – The Migration of EV Charging Stations to Utilities.

Electric utilities have been building electric networks for over a century. My guess is that building, owning and maintaining EV charging stations could well fall to utilities. It would be a natural evolution of their business model. They must build back-end networks. Think about how much electricity EV’s will need. The numbers are staggering.

Someone must do own the charging infrastructure. My bet is on utilities. They have been using GIS for their planning, design and operations for decades. They will rely even more on GIS to tackle this massive undertaking.

Trend 4 –New Responses to Natural Disasters

Zero-emission transportation will begin the reversal of greenhouse gas production. But climate change impacts will continue for decades. Utilities in California have implemented a process called Public Safety Power Shutoff or PSPS. When conditions warrant, they pre-emptively shut the power off to those communities most susceptible to wildfire damage. Utilities use GIS to help manage this process. GIS collects data. It helps coordinate various agencies. It analyzes risk. Finally, it helps inform the public and other stakeholders. Using the most effective way possible – maps – digital of course.

It seems likely that utilities most vulnerable to tornadoes, hurricanes earthquakes and floods will upgrade their networks for better resiliency to natural disasters. While a PSPS process helps, it doesn’t address the fundamental issue of a network resiliency.  

Trend 5 – 2021 – the Year of the Customer

Utilities are moving from an asset focus to a customer one. Competition will speed that up. GIS will be there to model demographics, marketing, and customer satisfaction. COVID will still be with us in 2021. GIS will help us alter our approach to customers. Utilities will employ AI and machine learning that integrates with their GIS to really focus on the customer in 2021.

Wrap Up

Goodbye 2020. There will be much work ahead for utilities to address the 3 “C’s”. The old rules will change. Lots of new stuff will be built. The challenge will be to assure disadvantaged and vulnerable segments of our society aren’t left behind. Success at this will help mitigate the root causes of civil unrest. GIS will be there to show us the way.

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jan 27, 2021

Electric utilities have been building electric networks for over a century. My guess is that building, owning and maintaining EV charging stations could well fall to utilities. It would be a natural evolution of their business model. They must build back-end networks. Think about how much electricity EV’s will need. The numbers are staggering.

Someone must do own the charging infrastructure. My bet is on utilities. They have been using GIS for their planning, design and operations for decades. They will rely even more on GIS to tackle this massive undertaking.

One of the challenges of the chicken/egg around EV market growth and EV charging infrastructure (I'm not buying one until there are more public chargers! Well, I'm not building chargers until there are more EVs on the road!) seems to be in the business case of owning and operating those chargers. For non-utility private entities, the payback period of the investment may be high, but I agree utilities may be best positioned to make it work-- not just for the experience and tools at their disposal, but for their unique ability in the market to make positive use of EVs tied to the grid (load shifting, mobile energy storage, etc.). 

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