GIS and Smart Grids Are the Future

As the world continues to seek the next reliable energy source, several companies are using GIS technology to help provide energy for the future.
This, of course, means opportunity for individuals seeking an online degree in GIS technology.

As referenced in American Sentinel University’s blog post “The Keystone Pipeline’s GIS Connection,” oil, gas and other energy industries will require GIS professionals to use spatial data to improve operations. One GIS job search engine, Geosearch.com, shows 199 jobs available for GIS professionals with an understanding or expertise in smart grids, a digitally enabled grid that gathers and acts on information based on user’s behavior.

In fact, a 2010 Esri study found 71 percent of energy companies believe geographic information system technology is strategic to the smart grid, while the remaining 29 percent believe GIS plays a significant role.

“GIS helps utility companies know the location of all its equipment. It helps the companies understand the relationship of the equipment to the surrounding area. So, if a transformer, for example, falls to the ground, you’re going to want to know … what’s near that transformer?” Bill Meehan told EarthSky.org. “Currently, if a piece of equipment falls to the ground and people are out of power, in most of the world the power company doesn’t know until somebody calls. If your power is out, you grab your phone. A smart grid, among many other things, will locate where that blown transformer is. That’ll let the utility company send crews to the right location with the right equipment. The smart grid is smart, but GIS lets it become even more intelligent.”

Just ask Denmark-based DONG Energy, one of the world’s largest wind farm operators, which uses GIS technology to improve efficiency in the efforts of energy procurement, production, trading and distribution. Using ArcGIS, DONG minimized time customers were without energy.

“It is important for our employees at all times to have an overview of the current state of the network,” Signe Andersen, DONG Energy IT manager, told ArcNews. “In outage situations, we don’t want the IT system to steal precious time. It is supposed to support you, give you the best overview, and be easy to operate.”

Especially in the case of a sudden outage, it is of crucial importance to be able to respond very quickly and precisely. In the GIS viewer, workers can perform geographical analysis to make sure data and knowledge can be evenly distributed.

According to Esri, DONG Energy’s electric vehicles put extra pressure on the grid, while pairing well with a wind power increase in the smart grid. To the company, the smart grid is about being able to, at a certain level, control the consumption at any given time to ensure a secure and reliable energy supply to all customers.

In addition, the underground cables are 30 to 40 years old, Esri said. But, the copper cables do not always need to be changed. Without a good GIS overview and high data quality, the company would have been forced to make a $100-million investment in new high-voltage cables, switches, and transformers everywhere the copper had reached an age of 40 years.

“Our staff understands that GIS helps them,” she says. “As soon as they know that, they update the data every time, and the quality of data becomes 100 times better, which is vital.”

Other utility companies using GIS technology include Idaho-based Kootenai Electric, which used ArcGIS Desktop and ArcGIS Server to help dispatch crews directly to outage areas and avoid unnecessary trips; and, New Mexico-based Continental Energy Systems used ArcGIS Desktop to use, share and edit operations, maintenance and engineering functions.

To view more about GIS and smart grids, visit Esri’s dedicated newsletter to the subject called Energy Currents.

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