Indexing Information: Key role of GIS in database creation for distribution networks

Key role of GIS in database creation for distribution networks

Ageographic information system (GIS) plays a crucial role in the development of a georeferenced consumer and network database for distribution utilities. GIS implementation is an important component of the central government’s flagship Restructured Accelerated Power Development and Reforms Programme (R-APDRP). Under Part A of the programme, all utilities need to create an indexed database of consumers and assets using GIS mapping. The scope of work under this is quite wide and involves the creation of a base map, network and asset surveys, consumer surveys, network creation and consumer indexing, GIS data verification and approval, GIS delta updates, GIS application development and integration with other modules. As of March 2014, 500 out of 1,401 towns had been declared “go live” under Part A.

Need for GIS

The effective operation of distribution systems requires good quality maps for asset management. GIS provides an optimal platform for capturing location-based asset information. Its integration with other systems like systems, applications and products (SAP), customer relationship management, supervisory control and data acquisition, distribution management system, and outage management system (OMS) helps in the management of the complete distribution network through faster and better decision-making. GIS helps unlock value for all stakeholders by enhancing workforce productivity, providing faster and better services to customers, and adding to shareholder revenue.

Several utilities have reaped benefits through GIS implementation. For instance, Tata Power Delhi Distribution Limited’s (TPDDL) entire electrical network at all voltage levels has been mapped through GIS for enabling quicker fault location and speedy redressals. OMS is also being upgraded to be automated on the GIS platform. About 1.39 million customers have been mapped on GIS by TPDDL.

The key components of GIS include the land base, the electrical network, and consumers.

Land base: The land base of licensed areas is developed using satellite images as well as through station and field surveys. The land base includes road networks, built-up and non-builtup areas, discom buildings, parks, footpaths, roads and water areas.

Electrical network: This comprises the entire extra high voltage, high tension and low tension networks from grid stations to consumer feed points. The electrical equipment is mapped across the geography with reference to X, Y coordinates.

Consumers: Customers are mapped in accordance with their respective buildings and connectivity with poles.

The major issues before a utility at present relate to the management of assets, the distribution network, and the commercial aspects of billing, collection, etc. GIS can help in dealing with them effectively.

Asset management: The management of assets without a location identifier on georeferenced maps makes controlling difficult. This also results in greater capital expenditure on asset planning.

Network management: The unavailability of georeferenced network maps and asset registers makes network planning and engineering highly time-consuming, costly and ineffective. This affects a utility’s performance in terms of meeting regulatory requirements, customer expectations and network reliability. Network operations and timely preventive maintenance of the grid system are difficult and entail greater expenditure without georeferenced network maps.

Commercial management: The release of new connections, recovery of dues and controlling electricity theft because of direct tapping of lines and meter tampering are among the foremost tasks utilities have to undertake. The availability of clearly identifiable georeferenced locations can significantly aid them.

Issues and challenges

Utilities and GIS service providers are facing several challenges in terms of obtaining available network-related drawings; consumer data and billing information from discoms; on-ground data verification; procurement of satellite images from the National Remote Sensing Centre; removal of non-relevant information (such as PAN numbers, caste, etc.) in the consumer survey data model; public resistance to consumer surveys; unclear timelines for data verification and approvals by discoms; and the need for regularly updating the GIS database.

Various data creation issues are encountered by utilities during GIS implementation. For instance, highly dense areas with unplanned habitations, narrow streets and extreme weather conditions make it difficult to capture land base information even through high resolution satellite imagery and require extensive field surveys. Moreover, sustenance of the land base with extensive growth requires updated imagery and field surveys from time to time.

Care must also be taken during global positioning system-based surveys as incorrect referencing can lead to wrong georeferencing of the entire data.

In addition, a field survey is a costly activity in terms of resource deployment and time consumed. Hence, it is very important to ensure that there is no reworking involved in this activity. This requires the preparation of extensive survey templates to capture field data in one go.

It is also crucial to ensure that the connectivity solutions deployed within the utility’s network are robust as these form the base for various applications. The lack of thorough quality checks in these solutions can lead to inaccurate reporting even with correctly surveyed data.

Due to the unavailability of asset registers and network drawings, field surveys are required for capturing information and doing this for an underground network is costlier and less productive.

Difficulties pertaining to asset nomenclature and unique numbering may also arise. Often, the unavailability of uniquely marked equipment and structures (such as poles and pillars) poses a challenge in mapping the last leg of connectivity from the distribution network to consumer premises. Thus, it is important to have uniquely numbered assets for achieving efficient and effective integrated processes.

While indexing consumer information, the unavailability of correct and formatted addresses, especially in unplanned and rural areas, presents a challenge in mapping consumers. Mapping with unique numbered assets solves the problem of consumer indexing as well.

Apart from data creation issues, a utility is also required to address challenges related to project design and system integration. For instance, at the time of framing the initial requirements for a project, impractical expectations often abound, which significantly increases the scope of the project. Multiple technologies with different platforms and proprietary data formats lead to problems in system integration and data sharing.

In an enterprise information landscape, GIS is required to be integrated with other operational technology and IT systems. The lack of “look-up” data in other systems leads to partial integration, which does not yield the right results. These issues need to be considered during the solution design phase itself. In addition, licensing various software systems can help restrict GIS usage, thereby resulting in lower costs as well as facilitating complete utilisation. The infrastructure requirements for GIS connectivity should also be studied judiciously with optimised bandwidth and hardware.

Integrated asset management through GIS-SAP-FAR

Assets play an important role in a discom’s day-to-day operations. Typically, discoms have a geographically dispersed inventory of assets and equipment. Asset management is essential for their appropriate tracking, regular maintenance and accounting. This helps a utility take decisions on the creation of new assets and their maintenance, and the repair, movement, augmentation and disposal of existing assets.

The IT systems that can be integrated by utilities for capturing asset information include GIS, SAP-Plant Maintenance, and SAP-Fixed Asset Register (FAR). Besides helping a utility to keep stock of its assets, integrated asset management allows it to determine performance targets for maintenance, planning and developing a long-term capex plan.

The way forward

Under the R-APDRP, the large-scale deployment of GIS is taking place for the first time in the country but the industry has limited capabilities when it comes to executing the same. As a result, delays are being encountered in the completion of Part A projects. All 1,401 towns are expected to complete Part A projects within the next two years, therefore making digital georeferenced maps available for all these towns. Distribution utilities can consider sharing these maps with other infrastructure service providers as well, like gas distribution companies and water supply utilities. GIS is likely to emerge as a key tool for planning with the government’s announcement of setting up 100 smart cities in the country.

With inputs from a presentation by Tarun Batra, Head, GIS, TPDDL, at a recent Smart Utilities conference