FOR MORE THAN A DECADE, GEOGRAPHIC INFORMATION systems (GIS) have been inextricably linked to outage management. The reason? GIS is able to integrate all the essential data from SCADA systems, customer information, work orders and the network, and put it all into play for a more rapid field crew response to outages.

Whether the utility is large or small, GIS has its advantages. Service quality and restoration time are equally important, whether you have a thousand customers, or millions. In a large service area covering thousands of square miles with differing geography, the advantages of using GIS-supported outage management are a no-brainer. Field crew efficiency must be optimized, the outage and its fallout must be identified in order to prioritize crew repairs, and it all has to be done quickly, with real-time outage data able to be mapped to physical assets.

Consumers Energy – Usng the Visual and Analytical Capabilities of GIS

Consumers Energy, which provides electricity and natural gas service to almost 6.5 million of Michigan’s 10 million residents, deployed a new outage management system (OMS) using GIS in 2008 to replace its 25-year-old, mainframe-based, non-geographic system. According to Wendy DeVries, a member of Consumers Energy’s OMS project team, who wrote about the project after its launch, the visual and analytical capabilities that the new system would provide gave Consumers Energy the advantage of being able to see more clearly the conditions affecting its distribution network.

Managing outages across a 35,000-square-mile service area with varying geographical landscapes, while maintaining service quality and keeping outage time to a minimum, brings with it some definite challenges. Prior to the new OMS deployment, Consumers Energy dispatchers and crews had to rely upon limited customer call information regarding the outage or outages. In the case of multiple outages, trying to figure out whether the incidents were related was also difficult.

A more advanced geographical OMS provided both visual and analytical capabilities that would allow Consumers Energy to digitally map physical assets and spatial relationships with its GIS, and then marry that with outage data provided real-time, for a better understanding of the outage or outages, and the means to respond and repair the issue more quickly.

Northeastern REMC – Applying Mobile GIS

Depending upon the size, budget and needs of an individual utility, many legacy outage management systems and processes rely upon paper maps. Northeastern Rural Electric Member Corporation (Northeastern REMC) was one of many in this position.

Now, its field crews have graduated from paper maps to PCs to better serve their customers, thanks to the help of a GIS-supported OMS system. A consumer-owned utility that supplies electricity to members in 26,000 households and businesses in northeastern Indiana, Northeastern REMC wanted to create digital maps of its entire network, in order to enable its field crews to respond more quickly to outages. As well, moving to digital maps would improve network data accuracy, and help to keep both customers and utility staff better informed.

So, the co-op took to the field with its GIS, mapping everything in its entire service territory, including every customer meter. A mobile GIS application now allows the utility to transfer information to and from the field. As but one example, field workers can now make notes, or redlines, on their personal computers while in the field, and then sync with the GIS server once they return to the office to send those notes to all other users, as well as to Northeastern REMC’s mapping department for review.

GIS mapping also allows the utility to create optimal driving routes for field crews, taking into account all information available, including all applicable network data, to further reduce outage response time. Staff and customers both are better informed with new data that can be viewed by staff, revised and searched from the office and from the field.

Nashville Electric (NES) – Applying GIS Technology

Nashville Electric Service (NES), which serves more than 360,000 customers in a 712-square-mile service territory in metropolitan Nashville, Tennessee, is subject to wicked weather that can wreak havoc on its electric grid.

One of the 12 largest public electric utilities in the United States, NES has had its share of natural disaster. In 1998, for example, a tornado ripped through downtown and east Nashville, taking out power for 75,000 of NES’s customers. In fact, this particular tornado marked another first for NES: it suffered more damage to facilities and equipment than any other utility in recent history. In 2010, record rainfall caused widespread flooding and damage to Nashville icons, neighborhoods and downtown equipment, submerging three NES substations in water, and leaving 42,000 customers without power.

NES first implemented GIS software nearly a decade and a half ago to help with the planning, design, operation and maintenance of its electricity network, and has continually updated it ever since. Now, most processes at NES incorporate some form of GIS applications, according to Vic Hatridge, the utility’s vice president and CIO.

In addition to mapping its grid assets, NES is also able to use its GIS software to assist its automated vehicle location (AVL) system, a real time-saver in terms of putting the right field crew in place at the right time.

Mapping & Data Visualization

A visual map of utility assets means real-time visibility, a tool of extreme importance in this new era of customer expectations and utility abilities. It can also provide the ability to automate certain tasks, from linking field workers with mobile supervisors and the dispatch center to dispatching work orders to the closest crew, and much more. In this case, knowledge is power, and visibility means the ability to provide the customer with much better outage restoration information than ever available before.

In an era in which Google Earth can provide satellite images and street-level views to the average home computer operator-though, granted, these images are not real-time-consumers expect their electric utility to be able to know, without a telephone call, that they have lost power. Geographic information systems offer that bird’s eye view to the utility, but in real-time.

This article originally appeared in intelligentutility.com

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