Alabama Power implemented GIS solutions to achieve customer satisfaction and improve profitability
Alabama Power Company, a subsidiary of Southern Company, has over 125,000 km of power lines serving 1.4 million customers in the state of Alabama, USA. Each and every employee in the company has three primary obligations; to work safely, to ensure high reliability standards, and to reduce the cost for customers. For the benefit of its customers, the Southern Company is developing a broad range of portfolio of energy resources. Such information solutions will facilitate knowledge transfer and maximise efficiencies for operations, construction and maintenance. Currently, the company utilises GIS across its transmission as a method to improve the asset inventory, to assist in preventive maintenance programmes, to improve reliability through new construction, and to reduce engineering costs by better utilisation of information during the planning and routing process.
Shedding a new light
Because of the extensive footprint of transmission assets of Alabama Power (over 16,000 km of corridors), the initial transition of the facility management records from a table- based system to GIS was a significant challenge. During mid 90’s, an aerial survey was conducted to collect geometrically adjusted images (orthophotos), oblique photos and structure locations. GIS specialists were called to tally the information collected by the aerial survey with the asset management inventory. For the first time, the engineers, and linemen were able to see geographic representations of the company’s wire, structures, switches and substations. With basic query skills, GIS technicians were able to perform analytics on structure types, materials and kilometres of line.
Soon, the Southern Company developed a mobile transmission inspection system for asset inventory and reliability management. The Transmission Line Inspection System (TLIS), was completed and implemented just in time for a series of hurricane events in 2004-2005 culminating with Hurricane Katrina. Crews were equipped with ruggedised tablets with internal GPS units for both ground and aerial evaluations, and learned to utilise navigation tools to avoid washed out roads and downed trees. As a result, Storm Center Managers were able to gain a clear view of the impact of the storm events, to better plan for restoration work and give the public an improved understanding of the crisis.
The outbreak of hurricanes pushed forward the enhancement of Southern Company’s first transmission web-based viewer, Transview, which was utilised to view transmission assets across Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Mississippi. While Transview was originally designed to provide a light viewer for transmission assets across the system, over time the functionally has been greatly enhanced. Some improvements include mobile substation tracking, Nexrad weather display, real time outages and integration with damage assessment solutions. The development of Web solutions allowed the transmission organisation to migrate from an enterprise level approach to an agile development environment capable of taking immediate advantage of business needs, software upgrades and enhancements.
Assessing tornado damage
In April 2011, over 60 tornadoes wreaked havoc across the Southeastern region. Alabama Power experienced outages covering over 30% of its transmission service territory. The Transmission Storm Response team quickly customised the reporting and analytics based upon executive and operational requirements as needed.
Just as Hurricane Katrina caused a paradigm shift in the way transmission utilised GIS, the massive tornado event exposed the analytical capability of GIS for the managers and executives at Alabama Power. Geoprocessing solutions were developed to integrate with BI solutions, creating a GEOBI element of the dashboard products. Initial efforts were simple viewers that provided a geospatial display to identify key customers and facilities, than more complex models were built to provide outage information and workplan management. The ability to embed geoprocessing services and tools has given the GIS team the ability to extend data access to the customer base.