Understanding Precedes Action

Posted to Esri in the Grid Professionals Group
image credit: Photo 164008887 © Jon Anders Wiken |
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...

  • Member since 2002
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  • May 17, 2022

In 2021, President Biden signed a $1.2 trillion bi-partisan Infrastructure Investment and Job’s Act (IIJA). It represented once-in-a-generation funding to rebuild and modernize America’s infrastructure. It is needed. In its latest report, the American Society of Civil Engineers grades the nation’s infrastructure a not-so-good C minus. The energy infrastructure received a similarly dismal C minus.

There are two areas of significant interest to the participants at the 2022 DistribuTECH conference on May 22-25 in Dallas, Texas. One area is the funding for half a million electric charging stations to be installed over the next five years. The impact on both the supply side and delivery side of utilities will be enormous. Secondly, the U.S. Department of Energy funded an overarching program called Building a Better Grid Initiative at a lofty $16.5 billion within the IIJA. This funding covers areas such as reliability and resiliency. It also includes preventing outages and leveraging new technology to enhance the transmission grid. Finally, it includes finding ways to deliver and connect to the substantial renewable resources needed to be deployed if we are to achieve electricity carbon neutrality in the next three decades.

Location Is at the Heart of the IIJA

As the president and founder of Esri, Jack Dangermond has stated often, “Understanding precedes action.” Nearly every work process involves location. Thus GIS should be at the heart of every utility’s work to prepare for IIJA’s funding grants. GIS provides three core elements to enhance utility’s understanding. The first is its data management core capability. At Esri’s DistribuTECH booth, participants can learn how to model electric networks more precisely. Esri calls this capability a system of record. Nearly every aspect of the electric grid, including structures, is modeled and visualized in 2D and 3D.

Once the data is captured and modeled, utilities can fully understand how to expand, upgrade, and assess the impact of storms, floods, earthquakes, and even terrorist attacks on the network. Advanced spatial analysis using machine learning can uncover hidden secrets about how the network behaves. That analysis can be extended to gain a science-based understanding of the utilities investment and operations dealing with equity. IIJA is very clear that all investments must be made through a lens of resiliency, reliability, sustainability, and equity. This may be new for many utilities. GIS provides the data and the analysis to lead utilities to solutions that balance operations and equity. Esri calls this capability a system of insight. In effect, GIS provides the ah-ha moments to help them make the right decisions.

Finally, utilities can’t just operate in a vacuum. They must communicate their plans broadly. This includes providing information to their funding sources, regulators, the media, and customers. A modern GIS delivers the tools to collaborate in real-time with all stakeholders using the same technology deployed by social media. Again, maps are the most natural way of telling a compelling story. Esri calls this a system of engagement.

Utilities must Start Now

Much of the funding is channeled through states, territories, and Tribal nations. The funding will then be funneled to utilities through subgrants. Utilities need to prepare. They need to leverage their GIS to bring data together, perform analysis, and collaborate. Those that do it well will be awarded the funding.

Learn at DistribuTECH

At DistribuTECH, participants can see these capabilities in action. Many of the utilities present will be small to medium-sized. Esri has developed a simple-to-use hosted solution that provides many of the capabilities of a full enterprise solution at a fraction of the costs. In addition, utilities with limited resources will be able to base their IIJA funding documentation by leveraging this SaaS solution.

Esri will showcase resiliency solutions to automate inspections using mobile technology in the field and analytics in the office using dashboards. In addition, there will be GIS and business intelligence presentations, drones for data management, real-time applications, and even cybersecurity. There will be a particular focus on how utilities can prepare for and manage outages, which is in direct alignment with the substantial funding of the $5 billion program as part of the Building Better Grid Initiative called Preventing Outages and Enhancing the Resilience of the Electric Grid.

Utilities should be looking at areas where outages have been excessive, where the infrastructure is beyond its useful life and where substantial upgrades will be needed to keep up with the rapid acceleration of electrification. DistribuTECH will be the ideal place to do just that.

Learn more about how GIS enables electric utilities here.

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