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Tactics for the IIJA - 1,200 Billion Reasons to Innovate

Posted to Esri in the Digital Utility Group
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Pat  Hohl's picture
Director - Electric Industry Solutions Esri

Pat Hohl, PE, is Esri's director of electric industry solutions. He was a pioneer in the use of GIS for electric utilities. He has over 35 years of experience in utility engineering, technology...

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  • May 19, 2022
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This item is part of the Special Issue - 2022-05 - Innovation In the Electric Power Industry, click here for more

Article by Pat Hohl PE  with Jim Weikert / PSE

 

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) is a big ask. The leaders I've spoken to universally agree it will require many different technologies, new approaches, and increased collaboration. So what kind of innovation is necessary to support this effort of $1,200,000,000,000? – that's 1,200 Billion dollars! Jim Weikert from Power System Engineering is one of the best-informed experts I've met.

Pat: Jim, you are on top of what is happing around IIJA. Where is the effort occurring today? What does the timeline look like from your perspective?

Jim: The IIJA is a five-year program with broad, bold goals, and we're just getting started. The US Departments of Transportation (DOT) and Energy, and others, are beginning to release guidance on how they want to achieve these goals. This guidance lays out aggressive, multi-faceted requirements, and much of the initial effort will come from the states, which will need to develop plans to facilitate the IIJA.

States will need to gather information from many areas to identify objectives for the plan and measurable performance metrics, and they'll need to update the program each year. Both the 2022 National Electric Vehicle (EV) Infrastructure (NEVI) plan and Grid Resiliency (GR) plans are expected to be due in August of this year. Hence, most states are likely already at work.

 

Pat: Turnaround times will be tight. It's safe to say that utilities should be preparing their proposals now. How will these plans differ from existing capital improvement plans or those from the 2009 AARA recovery act?

Jim: That's right. Utilities can be doing a lot to prepare their proposals now, including collaborating with the state and federal energy departments while developing the plans I just talked about.

IIJA is different from ARRA. The IIJA set out to prepare the grid more broadly for a transition to renewable energy and electric vehicles while also addressing resiliency issues arising from increased storms due to climate change.

Regardless of pursuing grants, system planning for any utility is a process that uses information from many sources to recommend enhancements that best leverage limited operations and maintenance funds. These include:

  • Worst outage areas
  • Critical reliability needs that impact the public
  • Aging and failing equipment
  • Loading today and future capacity needs

Utilities should prepare these plans now and consider EV growth and distributed generation (DG) growth they anticipate. It's also critical for utilities to share the needs they see with their states to allow the state to create a better-informed plan that meets utilities' needs.

 

Pat: Improving collaboration and data sharing will be critical. What innovations do you expect will aid this process?

Jim: One of the most essential innovations I'm seeing is utilities starting to incorporate their GIS and web mapping capabilities in the planning process. Traditionally, system planning analysis has often been based on anecdotal information mixed with the utility's immediate needs as well as a history of how the system has performed over the past 20 years. But this approach isn't going to be accurate enough anymore. If they aren't already, utilities will be required to account for significant changes, including:

  • Load changes due to multiple 10+ kW residential chargers and 600kW DC fast-charging stations
  • Generation changes from DG and distributed energy resources (DER)
  • External scrutiny of a grant application review

The analytic approach benefits from bringing together data that is overlaid on a foundation of the utility's GIS, including:

  • Load forecasting tools
  • DG interconnect locations and anticipated growth
  • Historic outage data
  • Asset management maintenance and repair costs
  • Demographics for disadvantaged communities and expected changes in EV and DG adoption

The further innovation of publishing this data through web maps results in a unique collaboration tool that utilities can use to present data in a way that's meaningful not just to engineers but also to senior management and grant writers.

States can also use this same tool to gather accurate information and clearly communicate their regional plans. That includes visualizing the many considerations in play:

  • Resiliency needs across the state
  • Disadvantaged and rural communities
  • Regional capacity and local issues
  • Ability to make use of DG
  • Opportunities to modernize with microgrids and storage

Ultimately, using GIS capabilities for improved planning helps develop—and communicate—a strong story for decision-makers, increasing the chances of being awarded a grant and ensuring the utility is prepared to maximize the funding they receive.

 

Pat: What suggestions do you have for practical next steps?

Jim: The best first step is to start simple and build from there.

Fortunately, most utilities, whether distribution or transmission, have the starting foundation of a GIS. What we have found most helpful in transitioning this to a system planning tool is to begin by incorporating readily available data. 

One simple step is to add annual reliability statistics such as system average interruption duration index (SAIDI) information to the substations and feeders and build visualizations showing reliability hotspots. Esri makes it easy to create a story map (ArcGIS StoryMaps) and publish this data to show how reliability has changed over time.

Once you've brought in simple reliability information, you can also show system loading over time and locations of DG on your system. From there, you can visualize asset age, capacity, and reliability under a host of conditions.

Our company, PSE, has used this process in developing planning tools and is going beyond to incorporate AMI data to locate EVs, integrate outage data, add EV and DG forecasts and bring in data on disadvantaged communities and other resources.

The sky is really the limit in being able to develop strong planning tools to maximize the effectiveness of IIJA and advance the long-term approach to system planning.

 

Wrap-up

IIJA creates a new approach to the modernization of the electric grid. Utilities need to immediately begin forming and communicating their plans with corresponding government agencies, regulators, and customers. GIS supports collaboration with compelling analytical and visualization capabilities for the diverse data sets under consideration. Learn more about how GIS is helping utilities work better.

 

 

More about Jim Weikert / PSE

Power System Engineering, Inc. is an industry-leading engineering services firm whose goal is to unite innovative solutions with proven approaches to support our client's needs. Jim Weikert, VP of Automation and Communications, earned a BSEE and MBA and has 30 years of engineering experience in automation. The GIS team at PSE leverages Esri's strong toolset to provide powerful solutions that improve the efficiency and effectiveness of utility customers.

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