GIS for Utilities

Geo-referenced maps for asset and consumer management

The geographic information system (GIS) has emerged as a powerful tool for the development of geo-referenced consumer and network maps for distribution utilities. It helps utilities in network planning and better servicing of consumers. The demand for GIS implementation in state utilities was driven by the Restructured Accelerated Power Development and Reforms Programme (R-APDRP), which has now been subsumed under the Integrated Power Development Scheme. Under Part A of the programme, all utilities need to create an indexed database of consumers and assets using GIS mapping. The scope of works under this includes the creation of a base map, network/asset survey, consumer survey, network creation and consumer indexing, GIS data verification and approval, GIS delta updates, and GIS application development and integration with other modules.

Need for GIS

The major issues faced by utilities relate to asset management, the distribution network, and the commercial aspects of billing, collection, etc. GIS can help in dealing with these issues effectively.

Asset management: The management of assets without a location identifier on geo-referenced maps is difficult. It also leads to greater capital expenditure on asset planning.

Network management: The unavailability of geo-referenced network maps and asset registers makes network planning and engineering highly time consuming, costly and ineffective. This affects the utility’s performance in meeting regulatory requirements and customer expectations and maintaining network reliability. Moreover, network operations and timely preventive maintenance of the grid system is difficult and entails greater expenditure in the absence of geo-referenced network maps.

Commercial management: Releasing new connections, recovering dues, and controlling meter tampering and power thefts due to direct tapping of lines are among the foremost responsibilities of most utilities. Clearly identifiable geo-referenced locations can significantly help in these tasks.

GIS components

The key components of GIS are the land base, electrical network and consumers. The land base of licenced areas is developed using satellite images as well as through station and field surveys. The land base includes the road network, built-up and non-built-up area, discom buildings, parks, footpaths, roads and water area. The electrical network comprises the entire extra high voltage, high tension and low tension network from the grid station to consumer feed points. Customers are mapped according to their respective buildings and connectivity with poles.

Issues and challenges

For the first time in India, wide-scale deployment of GIS is taking place under the R-APDRP, but the industry has limited capability for its execution. As a result, there have been delays in the completion of Part A projects. Discoms and GIS service providers face several challenges such as obtaining drawings related to the available network and consumer data and billing information; on-the-ground data verification; procurement of satellite images from the National Remote Sensing Centre; removal of non-relevant information such as PAN number and caste from the consumer survey data model; public resistance to consumer surveys; undefined timelines for data verification and approval by the discom; and the need for regularly updating their GIS database. It is also essential to ensure that the connectivity solutions deployed within the utility’s network are robust as they form the base for various applications.

In addition, the discoms encounter certain data creation issues during GIS implementation. For instance, it is difficult to capture land base information in highly dense areas with unplanned habitations, narrow streets and extreme weather conditions, even through the use of high resolution satellite imagery. This requires extensive field surveys from time to time.

However, conducting field surveys is a capital- intensive job in terms of resource deployment as well as the time taken. Due to the unavailability of asset registers and network drawings, thorough field surveys need to be conducted to capture information. Gathering information about the underground network is costlier and less productive. Therefore, it is important to ensure that there are no reworks involved in this activity. This requires the preparation of extensive survey templates to capture field data in one go.

Further, issues pertaining to asset nomenclature and unique numbering may arise. The unavailability of uniquely marked equipment and structures (such as poles and pillars) often poses a challenge in mapping the last leg of connectivity between the distribution network and the consumer premises. Thus, it is important to have uniquely numbered assets for achieving efficient operations. While indexing consumer information, the unavailability of correct and formatted addresses, particularly in unplanned and rural areas, poses a challenge in mapping consumers.

Given its benefits, including the successful resolution of operational issues, GIS is expected to play an important role in the government’s upcoming smart grid and smart cities projects.

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