For an electric utility to respond promptly to an outage due to a physical asset failing–such as a transformer exploding or a pole otherwise failing for any number of reasons, the electric utility must know the precise location of the failed asset.
The more guesswork that’s involved with finding a troubled asset’s precise location, the longer it takes to do the work and restore that asset and return electricity to customers.
Accurate GIS data is the key to precise geographic understanding.
Unfortunately, for many utilities, completely accurate GIS (geographic information systems) data has been more of a dream than a reality.
In my days working in the field for a major utility, we were often sent to assess and respond to outages in challenging conditions.
For example, suppose a transformer exploded on a pole in a neighborhood at two o’clock in the morning. Without precise GIS data–which was the norm in those days–we might know roughly where the pole was based on the available coordinates.
Chances are good that the pole was installed before the neighborhood was built. That means, while we might be in the right area, we wouldn’t know which side of the fence in a rear easement allows us to access the pole
Without precise GIS data, we might have to knock on a half-dozen doors in the middle of the night to gain proper access to the troubled pole.
The last thing most utility field personnel want to do when there is an outage is unnecessarily rouse residents from a deep sleep and ask if we can traverse their property to see if it’ll take us to the pole we need to fix.
Or worse yet, we’d walk onto a property on which we believe the pole was located only to have the property owner think we were burglars because there is no pole on their property. The first thing these miffed property owners always exclaim is “how can the utility company not know where their own poles are?”
I learned this the hard way…in California, where residents really value sleep.
Recently, a colleague at a major utility confessed to me that the data in his organization’s GIS database is “a mess.” He’s not alone.
Today, the GIS databases many of the larger US utilities possess have improved data from what they might have had five to seven years ago, but it could always be better.
Given the choice, most electric utilities would like to have the overall quality of the data in the GIS databases improve.
One way this improvement can be realized that’s seldom talked about involves acquiring the updated data during the joint use process.
Across the country, 5G networks are expanding as communications companies seek to bring broadband internet to communities that don’t yet have it.
Before they can attach their network cables to the grid’s existing infrastructure, the communications companies must attain an approved joint-use permit from the electricity utility which owns the poles and is responsible for them.
Herein lies a cost-friendly opportunity for electric utilities to improve their GIS data.
In order to assess the pole properly and ensure the attachments don’t compromise the pole’s integrity, the communication companies (or their engineering partners) must acquire pole data that can be later assessed for pole load analysis.
That data acquired during the joint use process–pole location and inventory chief among it–is precisely what the utility needs to improve its GIS database.
In other words, the same data needed to complete the joint use process can also be used to update the utility’s GIS database when the joint use project has concluded.
For the utility, it’s the classic two-birds-with-one-stone approach to updated and improved GIS data.
Instead of incurring the expense of contracting with an engineering firm (or multiple firms) for the sole purpose of assessing poles to update asset data, utilities can get more value from the joint use work that’s already being done at such an expansive level.
That is, utilities can take the data acquired during the joint use process and use it to update the GIS system when the joint use project is complete.
Here is where technology and software can help.
If that data in the field were to be acquired with a data acquisition device (such as the IKE) and then uploaded to a cloud-based collaborative software (such as IKE Office Pro), the data could not only be accessed by all participating parties while the joint use project is in progress but, it could then be exported to the utility’s internal GIS system when the joint use process is complete.
That would be a major win for utilities that would love to possess better GIS data but aren’t so sure if they want to foot the lion’s share of the bill to attain it.
This way, the communications companies are paying for the assessment work that’s being conducted on the grid’s physical infrastructure; they’re doing it happily since their true goal is to attain a joint use permit and efficiently complete their attachment so they can get on serving their customers with broadband service.
When it comes to updating and improving a utility’s GIS data, the adage holds: work smarter, not harder.Subscribe to The IKE Wire
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