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There is a need to embrace GIS as one of the core ‘utility grade’ technologies

GIS as one of the core ‘utility grade’ technologies

Trey Price, Electric Engineering GIS Analyst, Denton Municipal Electric throws light on the need to embrace GIS as one of the core ‘utility grade’ technologies

The advent of the electric utility, at the turn of the 20th century, brought in a significant change to the way people lived their lives. Lights could be turned on at night, large factories could operate large powered machinery and people had access to easier sources of home heating, cooling besides, of course, the Internet. Technology has improved and changed. The paradigm has begun to shift on how energy is delivered to the home or office. Electric utilities have changed significantly too. Combined factors give way to a storm of opportunity for geospatially aware technology to bridge the gaps in the way electric utilities operate.

Challenges for electric utilities

The old model would place all the emphasis on Customer Information System (CIS) without much spatial awareness of the grid. The CIS is still an important tool for the electric utility, but Geographic Information Systems (GIS) integrated to utilities’ CIS, Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems and AMI systems puts more power into the operational and supervisory staff of an electric utility. Systems such as AMI and SCADA need to have the geospatial awareness that GIS brings to the table.

The state of Texas has had an interesting set of challenges for its electric utility. The state market is divided into deregulated investor owned market, the cooperative owned system and the municipality owned model. The city of Denton, Texas operates its own municipal electric utility – Denton Municipal Electric (DME). Located north of Dallas and Fort Worth, Denton is a full service city, operating the electric utility as well as water, wastewater, and landfill services.

Utility Grade is one term that is used more often at DME to describe how the business is. The GIS department at DME has a primary goal of providing with ‘Utility Grade’ geospatial and technology services. This also means that GIS has been identified as one of the core technologies for the electric utility. The GIS at DME is also one of the ‘Utility Grade’ systems alongside the CIS, SCADA and AMI systems. For over 10 years, DME has been using an Esri ArcGIS based solution with Schneider Electric’sArcFM and recently has implemented a few new products to enhance the goals of the utility in the 21st century. And GIS has also been integrated with the CIS, SCADA, and Integrated Voice Recognition (IVR) systems.

GIS gives out spatial location to each department at DME. System Operations ensure that they safely dispatch crews to outages or to address trouble calls from citizens. The crews rely heavily on ArcFM Viewer for ArcGIS Engine map, so that they can view their location in the DME system and use a built-in GPS receiver in their laptops to track their position on the map. Crews can also send mobile sessions to the enterprise that contain Redline graphics regarding the actual state of the system, which helps DME crews to have ownership of the data in GIS.

In 2012, DME and Schneider Electric implemented an inspection programme that worked with ArcFM Viewer for Engine. The programme allows DME to review the quality of the equipment used in the field at regular intervals. For staff sitting in office, an inspection plan has been formulated. Sessions are created in the geodatabase, using the desktop ArcFM clients and then sent to the field users where they edit the inspection records and send back the information to the database. Office staff reviews the records to see if items need to be replaced, and the records are stored in the geodatabase.

Implementation of new software

DME began the process of upgrading and implementing new software in 2013. Previously, the GIS database was located at an offsite location and on outdated hardware and software, with no options for disaster recovery or high availability options besides a daily tape backup. The database and
software were upgraded to Esri’s 10.1 platform in August 2013. The database also migrated to new hardware that had onsite and offsite redundancies for high availability and disaster recovery options. With the additional capabilities of the software at 10.1, the base was set to implement additional enhancements for DME’s geospatial infrastructure.

GIS-Database-for-electric-utilities - Implementation of new software Denton Municipal ElectricThe first step taken was to upgrade the fiber optic cable data in the GIS database to Schneider Electric’s Fibre Manager model. The primary function of the fibre optic system at DME is to provide communications from all of the sub-stations operated by DME as well as provide additional service to the City of Denton’s facilities located around the city. DME also provided additional services to Denton County and the State of Texas facilities located within the city limits of Denton.

GIS gives out spatial location to each department at DME. System Operations ensure that they safely dispatch crews to outages or to address trouble calls from citizens.

The migration of the DME fibre data into the new Fibre Manager model allows the communications staff at DME to power their day-to-day business with the power of GIS. Following the implementation of Fibre Manager, DME identified a need to provide an internal GIS based map to the entire enterprise. The ArcFM for Silverlight web map was deployed to an intranet based site. Now the maps of the entire system — powered by GIS — were available to all the employees of DME. This eliminated the need to have large installations on many of the desktops at DME. Users suddenly found themselves using the map on a daily basis, including users that previously did not identify a need for access to GIS. Utility Grade geospatial technology was driving the way that the users did work on a day-to-day basis.

Denton also identified a need to replace their existing Outage Management System in 2014. They also identified the need to integrate these systems into the other information tools that DME also uses. Integrations were built so that the IVR, CIS and SCADA could communicate better data into the OMS. Schneider Electric’s Responder OMS was identified as the product to replace DME’s previous system. The sophisticated integrations alongside DME’s GIS would give a significant amount of data to the electric system operators whose primary goal is to ensure the safety of the crews while making sure that power is restored in a timely manner.

Using the Multispeak platform, Schneider Electric and DME developed, tested and implemented integrations to these systems. SCADA could provide real time status at the substations, giving the operators an idea when some of the larger loads are lost on the system. The IVR system takes phone calls from customers reporting they have no power. Combined with the GIS and CIS data, calls from IVR could quickly identify the location of incidents for the system operators to dispatch. And responder works to predict which devices may be malfunctioning and in need of repair based upon the spatial location of the calls with the electric network in GIS.

Responders are able to integrate the data from the meters in the field. The newer advanced meters read a great deal of information about the condition of the electricity being fed into the grid to the home. One of the biggest pieces is whether or not the lights are on or not. This is incredibly insightful to the state of the system due to certain conditions that would cause either the SCADA system to not record issues on a smaller basis or for many of the citizens who do not call in outages on the IVR. In many cases, this turns the relationship between the electric utility and the consumer around. The utility would know the consumer is out before a consumer has time to report an issue. This would go a long way to increase customer satisfaction in the electric utility and improve a utility’s response time to an incident.

The key to a successful future for any electric utility liesin the way it adapts to the changing technological world over the coming years. Denton Municipal Electric has identifiedthe best way to adapt to this change is to embrace GIS as one of the core utility grade technologies. Staff benefits with better tools as they work to provide better electric service tothe consumer. This includes providing field staff with a GIS solution, providing office staff with readily available GIS data and providing system operations with a fully integrated Outage Management System powered by GIS.

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