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Mapping out big electricity savings

Electricity network company Vector is introducing a mobile and handheld computer system for field crews which it believes will save $500,000 a year.

Workers will be able to access and update records using 40 Compaq Ipaq devices and six Panasonic Toughbook notebook computers that show map locations of company assets such as cables, substations, transformers and poles.

Software and hardware costs for the system, which has been in development since last August, are $200,000.

The Ipaqs have 64Mb of memory and a 256Mb storage card and run newly released ESRI ArcPAD GIS software supplied by Eagle Technology. Vector has developed its own software to allow translation of data between ArcPAD and the Smallworld GIS. This happens when the devices are plugged into a cradle at the office.

Each PDA also has a Navman global positioning system (GPS) device to automatically pinpoint the worker’s location to within 10m. GPS capability for the notebooks is being developed.

Network assets and systems manager Gareth Williams says one of the biggest challenges of the project was getting all the graphical map data to fit in the PDA. Wireless cellphone-style access was considered as an alternative but Williams said they concluded the present bandwidth available was not enough for the amount of data that would have to be sent.

Vector has more than 50 substations, 3000km of overhead line, 4000km of underground cable, 8000 transformers and 50,000 power poles.