Geospatial applications are laying the groundwork for the next round of infrastructure development and customer interaction.
Christian Hamaker is managing editor of Public Utilities Fortnightly. Interest in geospatial information systems (GIS) is surging among utilities. The latest Geospatial Technology Report, from the Geospatial Information & Technology Association (GITA), says electric distribution companies “remain at the forefront of” geospatial information and technology, with outage analysis and trouble calls leading the way in most used applications among electric utilities.
“Utilities are looking to take institutional knowledge in the head of a designer or engineer that’s been doing their network/facility layouts for the last 35 years and creating a rules- or standards-based design process,” says Alan Saunders, senior industry manager, telco and utilities, at Autodesk. “In many cases, over half their asset structure can be over 50 years old and nearing the end of their useful life. They have a lot of replacement work to do, so they’re going to get hit with a double whammy of having to do more work with fewer resources.”
As utilities grapple with aging infrastructure and outage management, they are evaluating their GIS and considering the best way to keep up with the shifting demands of the electric-power industry.
Costs and Payoff
The amount of money spent on implementation of GIS ranges widely, from less than $150,000 in some instances to the tens of millions at some utilities. But whatever the price tag, GIS is essential to utility operations, says Edward L. Henson, IT project manager at Dominion Resources Services Inc.
“From a poles-and-pipes perspective, we have billions of dollars worth of facilities,” Henson says. “Everything about our business is geographic—placing [infrastructure], inspecting it, and sending field crews out to look at these things. We need to get the right resources to the right location as quickly as possible.”