Power Smart Grid

Location-Based Technologies for Utilities
By Jay Stinson, Vice President, Utilities & Communications, Intergraph Corp. | Published July 20, 2009

As indicated by this magazine, location-based information has quickly made its way into just about every industry out there. For example, marketers are using it to send special deals to consumers as they pass by their favorite stores, emergency personnel rely on it to save lives, and engineers require it to build our world’s infrastructure. In my world, I get to witness each day the difference that spatial data can make for utilities providers of all sizes, from the largest to the smallest, around the globe.

Figure 1:  Smart Grid Illustration - A smart grid is made up of many technologies and moving parts. A consolidated user interface enables operators to make sense of all the information flooding into the control room and make faster, more informed decisions. While location-based services have become ubiquitous across markets, the technology currently becoming common for utilities is smart grid. In basic terms, smart grid is a collection of various technologies that optimize the performance and management of electric transmission and distribution networks to boost reliability, cut costs and conserve energy and resources. As a result of ever-increasing energy demands, coupled with economic and environmental pressure, it seems almost every utility in North America, and many others around the world, are at least evaluating a transition to smart grid.

In some areas, government regulations are contributing to a rising interest in and need for smarter grids. For example, in Ontario, Canada, the government has set a target of deploying smart meters in all businesses and households throughout the province by the end of 2010. An essential piece of the smart grid puzzle, a smart meter allows for the advanced measurement of energy usage, enabling both energy providers and consumers to manage and control their usage more effectively. In states like California, Washington and Oregon, regulations designed to limit greenhouse gas emissions for environmental and climate purposes are encouraging utilities to look for alternative ways to meet growing energy demands without boosting generation or building new power plants. In addition to improving efficiencies, smart grids also allow for the incorporation of renewable energy sources like solar and wind into the grid, helping to further clean energy initiatives.

Economic Stimulus and Smart Grid

President Obama’s recent economic stimulus bill has also led to growing interest in smart grid. Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009, there are approximately $15.5 billion available in grants for utilities looking to modernize their grid infrastructure and operations. One United States Department of Energy study calculated that the modernization of U.S. power grids with smart grid technology would save $46-$117 billion over the next 20 years.

Now the U.S. government is calling also for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, targeting as much as an 80 percent reduction by 2050 – with the reduction of CO2 emissions by power companies being a major component of the plan. President Obama has made clear that modernizing our nation’s infrastructure, including the energy grid, is a top priority and a necessity for the future success and survival of our country. All of these forces are working together to push smart grid to the forefront of daily media headlines and the minds of utility operators.

So what exactly makes up a smart grid? Well, as mentioned above, it is not just one technology, but rather many technologies working together to optimize grid operations. These technologies include smart meters, integrated communications, sensors, supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), distribution management and many others, but the glue that holds these advanced technologies together is a strong location-based foundation, otherwise known as a geographic information system (GIS).

Without an accurate inventory of assets – meters, transformers, conductors, poles and everything in between – utilities cannot possibly begin to develop smarter grids. Even to begin to maximize operations and improve performance, utilities need to see the full scope of their resources and where everything is at any given moment. Records need to be accurate, up-to-date and easy both to access and to update from the back office and the field. This complexity requires a powerful, flexible, scalable and open GIS platform like the one Intergraph has been offering to the utilities industry for over 40 years. See Figure 1 for an illustration of smart grid components, and Figure 2 for an image of Intergraph’s Smart Grid Operations Command and Control Center.

Figure 2:  Intergraph Smart Grid Operations Command and Control Center - Intergraph’s Smart Grid Operations Command and Control Center provides a single user interface for the efficient operation of the distribution network.Once assets are properly mapped out, stored and managed, only then can a utility begin to incorporate additional location-based technologies such as an outage management system (OMS), which also plays a huge role in smart grid. One major component of having a smart grid and being able to manage energy better is the ability to identify, respond to and resolve power outages quickly and with minimal impact to customers. By tying OMS and GIS platforms with advanced technologies like automated meter reading (AMR), customers like Wisconsin Public Service (WPS) are making their grids smarter and improving performance. By automatically pinging customer meters to determine whether their power is on, WPS has saved vast amounts of time and hundreds of thousands of dollars per year that would previously have been consumed by making manual calls to customers to check on their status or by dispatching crews to unnecessary areas.

Progress Energy

Progress Energy is another utility that is embracing a strong GIS as a foundation for smart grid. Today, an Intergraph GIS serves as the foundation for all of Progress’ distribution asset records. The system also feeds the utility’s Intergraph OMS and mobile workforce management system, and its circuit analysis programs. More than 800 employees use the system to view GIS data and create or update facility information. It also allows crews in the field to view the same visual representation of its assets as those back at the office.

The integration of GIS information with the utility’s OMS has helped Progress improve outage response time and customer service. As Progress moves forward with its smart grid strategy and initiatives, its GIS will become even more critical to its operations as the utility strives to operate its grid in real time.

Enersource Hydro Mississauga

Other utilities, like Enersource Hydro Mississauga in Ontario, Canada, are integrating all of their smart grid technologies through a single interface for optimal efficiency. Previously, Enersource operators used different applications for GIS, SCADA, internal work processing, and many others for day-to-day electric grid management. This required operators to switch among multiple systems in the control room, which increased both complexity and the time required to monitor and analyze data.

Enersource recently decided to implement Intergraph’s Smart Grid Command and Control Center to achieve a complete, integrated environment for electric distribution grid operators. The integrated environment will fuse together GIS and OMS technologies with Siemens’ Distribution System Power Flow (DSPF) application to create an integrated command and control environment. The unified command and control environment will provide easily visualized, actionable intelligence manifested in the form of alarms, events, work orders and other understandable activities, allowing for quick detection and remediation of outages and other potential issues – capabilities that will lead to greater efficiency and improved performance. 

The utilities market is just one example of an industry that relies heavily on location-based data and technology to thrive. Without a solid, location-based platform for managing assets, advanced smart grid implementations would not be possible. As the world’s economic, political and environmental climates continue to call for change in the way energy is generated and delivered, more utilities will turn to GIS applications to serve as the base for their next-generation smart grids. Location-based technologies are the central nervous system of a smart grid, keeping track of and reporting on the status of all of its moving parts at any given time. Without it, the grid would not only be less than smart, but it would eventually die.

The Pressure of a 24/7 Economy

In a 24/7 connected economy, the grid is under greater pressure, and it will become more difficult to assess peak loads when people and companies are working around the clock and redefining the meaning of a work day. GIS used to be relegated to network management, the core competency of a utility. However, it is increasingly being used to address a number of other critical business issues such as regulatory compliance, customer service and cost control. Executives are beginning to use GIS to think about the future of the business, including determining and managing various sources of power such as hydro, wind, coal and solar. 

The Business of a Location-based Smart Grid

Utility executives face a challenging operating environment of increased demand for electricity as a result of various factors, such as growing populations, an information-based economy that relies more on the grid, and trends toward electric vehicles, for example. While the transmission, distribution and delivery of electricity has not changed much since the days of Thomas Edison, the tools to run the business have improved.

  1. By integrating GIS and OMS technology from Intergraph, Progress Energy has achieved cost savings of more than $1,000,000 per year.
  2. Cobb EMC in Georgia has been able to improve outage response times significantly and to enhance customer service through an integrated GIS, OMS and mobile workforce management (MWFM) platform from Intergraph.
  3. For Hydro Ottawa, Intergraph automated a manual process for customer disconnect and reconnect notices, increasing the productivity of this function by 29 percent and allowing for quicker responses and better service to customers.
  4. When a powerful windstorm swept across Vermont in April 2007, Central Vermont Public Service saved an estimated $1 million in additional expenditure on outside crews by using Intergraph’s OMS technology.