Home Articles ‘Geospatial will continue to play a strong role in power sector’

‘Geospatial will continue to play a strong role in power sector’

Dipak Kumar Banerjee
Dipak Kumar Banerjee
Head, GIS Cell

Kolkata-based CESC Ltd was the first power distribution company to go for GIS in 1990 and then go for proper consumer indexing in 2006-07. Today, as it enters the last phase of the project, the RPG Group company is gung-ho about the new technology. Dipak Kumar Banerjee, who heads CESC’s GIS Cell, talks about GIS in utility management, challenges the company faced and the road ahead.

How critical is GIS and geospatial technology for utility management?
GIS technology has great importance in utility management. Data is one thing and seeing that data in graphical form is another. Managing this data graphically gives a lot of insight to on-line managers in identifying the ground situation of a particular utility. For instance, an electrical utility would like to have information about its hot spot areas – which are the non-payment areas, where is the transformer overloaded etc. One can have this kind of information in a tabular form but GIS gives a spatial context to this information by providing a location. This would help utilities in trying to work out how best they can serve the consumer by placing the transformer to the nearest load centre point. With the advent of smart grids, this will be further enhanced.

As a distribution engineer, a major concern is locating space for installing a distribution transformer. We need information regarding the available space on land where we can install another transformer. Today, getting a piece of land is becoming very difficult, especially in built-up urban areas. GIS helps in locating open spaces which in turn can help us to develop an efficient network so that the consumers get stable supply.

With proper GIS in place one can do energy auditing, one can identify and filter the theft-prone areas. One can do load flow analysis with the help of a load-flow analysis software plugged with the GIS. DMS system from SCADA can tell us which transformer is off when there is a HT tripping. Another major advantage is asset management which can give a reality check of things at ground level. If your GIS is well maintained and updated, all such information can be at the fingertips. All this is very important for utilities to manage its resources efficiently and give better consumer care.

Geospatial technology is playing a very pivotal role in India’s power distribution sector. How much progress do you think has been made towards this?
We face several issues in India. Developing a viable GIS is very difficult as the system is very expensive to implement, maintain and upgrade. Also, training and management of field-level operations personnel is very important. If we are not able to do this, then GIS cannot be utilised efficiently. Proper and disciplined workflow has to be put in place for prompt network updation. If all these things are not properly matched, then whatever GIS work is done becomes perfunctory. The Central Electricity Regulatory Commission wants consumer indexing for better consumer care. For this, one has to have specifics of a town on maps, especially the buildings, roads, road centre lines etc. — where is the consumer located, what is the source of power supply etc.

The Restructured Accelerated Power Development and Reforms Programme (R-APDRP) has taken a first step in this direction. However, two more steps are yet to be taken to make it perfect. As far as I have seen, the implementation is probably not up to the grade. It is not the pure consumer indexing in GIS that we know of, that we talk of.

So what are the next steps? How do we go forward from here in the national scenario?
If we talk about urban areas, they contain houses which have electricity networks, and what one has to do is locate these houses, locate the consumer in that house, locate the service point from which the houses are getting power supply, go to the distributor, and ultimately from that distributor one can trace the network back to the source. This is true consumer indexing.

At the national level, most of the network is overhead. So what we are doing is connecting the consumer to the overhead pole. The major problem with this is that you don’t know to which house of a pole the consumer belongs. Moreover, if a particular pole is not receiving the supply, it becomes very difficult to locate the house of the consumer. Here, GIS can be of immense help as it can locate where a particular person is, where is his house, how is he connected to the distribution – overhead or underground etc. In cases of underground network, it becomes even more difficult to locate the consumer as nobody will dig up the road to find out from which service and distributor cable he is getting supply. Even though this is possible with GIS, it is very difficult and expensive to implement.

The plan that is on paper at the moment is, the creation of a data centre, then a disaster recovery centre, then consumer indexing, then asset mapping on GIS platform. Are you saying that we have only done some part of the consumer indexing?
I can tell you what CESC has done in Kolkata. We have a data centre (DC) and a disaster recovery (DR) centre put in place. We also have a powerful GIS server both in the DC as well as DR connected to a very strong Company wide IntraNet . We have broken GIS consumer indexing into three phases — the first is taking the land base and putting the electrical network on top of that. Out of the 10 districts, it is live in three districts and will be functional in other seven very soon.

The second phase is connecting the consumer to the house. We are locating houses as per our database and identifying the consumers within that house. Phase 3 is the toughest, where we have to find out which distributor that particular consumer’s service is attached to.

If you don’t have a proper plan in place, it is very difficult to get desired results. We have more or less completed Phase 1 and are in the process of completing Phase 2. Hopefully, we will complete it within this year and then plan for Phase III.

I don’t know how other states are doing it, but it should be more or less the same. Without a data centre it becomes very difficult to maintain the data if one is dealing with graphical and tabular data, asset management, DMS, SCADA with DMS, GIS etc. We are trying to achieve this through our three phases.

Consumer indexing is a tough job since there has been no solid precedence in India.
I have been to many places and institutes abroad. I was in the US for a particular project and talked to utility people there. After I told him about our processes, they said that we were following the right steps – the three phases that I have spelt out. Unfortunately, I am not sure about the national level since many utilities are doing things in their own way.

Can you put an ROI to the investment of CESC has made towards GIS?
Although we do not have financing from R-APDRP etc, yet the investment in developing a true GIS based Consumer Indexing is very high, the return will come once we have consumer indexing in place and the consumer gets direct benefit from the System. In terms of figures, I don’t have any with me. But we have invested heavily since it is a pre-requisite of WBSERC however the progress has been steady.

What are the major challenges for power reforms in India vis-à-vis geospatial technology?
The major problem is that most of us don’t know what we want out of GIS. There is a ruling that we have to use GIS and conduct consumer indexing. This is the first step. But if you look at GIS per se, most of us don’t even have an idea about its power how it can help us in making our work more efficient.

For example, CESC wanted a land base of Kolkata and its environment. Since we had nothing like this readily available from any agency, we had to build up our own land base, do the survey work, digitise everything etc. Whereas in advanced countries, the website of municipalities will provide the land base along with relevant data.

Also, standardisation is not being done here – what should be your land base, what should be your electrical symbol for each type of feature and corresponding information that you have. As a result everyone is doing things their own way. At a national level, this will make interfacing with one other very difficult. There are no standards, only guidelines are given.

How do you think it can be done?
It should be done by a central regulatory commission that should have a body to study the standards that need to be set up. That should be passed on to the state regulatory commissions which should then pass it on to the utilities. Commissions are guiding utilities on their various activities. They should give us the guidelines on what should be the basic structure of GIS. Land-based survey should be left to the municipalities and they should have their own standards. And this information should be readily available on the Internet. The same land base can then be used by different line departments who can see the information uploaded by other departments. Utilities should not be concerned about land base. However, I have not seen this happening anywhere.

There is lack of coordination between data generating agencies. How do various cities keep their data? Do they conform to standards? Or are they just keeping it as per requirement? There are definitely some standards in place, but there is a lack of basic standardisation in network for one utility to follow for interacting with other utilities.

What is the future of geospatial technology in India? What more needs to be done to encourage use of this technology in India?
One of the major issues is the pricing of the software and the way it is developed. These are primarily meant for the advanced countries where the load growth is a minimum each year – may be not more than 1%. On the other hand, in India, all the utilities are growing at a rate of 5-6%. So, the network and growth is very dynamic which leads to a lot of customisation to make this software suitable for the Indian scenario. This is our observation at the CESC. This hampers our planning activities and I think this is one of the reasons why GIS for an electrical utility is very slow in uptake in India.

Now, with smart grid coming in, people are saying that GIS may no longer be required. But I think that GIS will be needed because the power of a GIS comes from its ability to relate different information in a spatial context and to reach a conclusion about this relationship. A GIS, therefore, can reveal important new information that leads to better decision making.

Geospatial technology will, therefore, continue to have a strong role to play for the foreseeable future.