Geographic information system (GIS) technology links geographic information with descriptions, allowing it to be viewed in advanced geographical maps that provide a more holistic view of infrastructure and assets. GIS technology and data are invaluable tools in city gas distribution (CGD) business processes, from planning and engineering to operations and maintenance. GIS adds value to CGD businesses by facilitating integration with other systems, leading to improvements in analysis, visualisation, planning and decision-making.
Gas distribution pipelines consist of small segments of pipes of various diameters that are connected by different kinds of fittings and gas control components placed at regular intervals in the network. Therefore, it is critical for CGD companies to be attentive and responsive to gas leak locations, environmental effects on assets, replacement requirements, impact of assets on other utilities, etc. CGD companies use GIS software products to support their engineering and operational activities in this regard.
GIS software companies have introduced solutions for different purposes like outage management systems, engineering design, transmission corridor management, and network asset management. Gas discoms have implemented these products separately to support business workflows for services groups, consumer groups, operations groups, billing groups, etc.
GAIL Gas: The company is in the process of centralising its GIS in cities where it operates from a common GIS platform. In 2014-15, it implemented a pilot web-based GIS for its operations in Dewas, Madhya Pradesh.
Maharashtra Natural Gas Limited: In December 2015, the company floated a tender for implementing a GIS-based assessment system for its CGD network in Pune with a five-year annual rate contract for mapping and system maintenance.
PNGRB: In August 2015, the Petroleum and Natural Gas Regulatory Board (PNGRB) directed all CGD entities (authorised by the PNGRB) to expedite the GIS mapping of their respective networks within the stipulated time frames and share these details with state municipal authorities. They were also advised to upload the same on their websites as this would reduce the chances of third-party damage.
Main risks in GIS implementation
While the successful implementation of GIS technology has numerous advantages, CGD companies face several inherent risks. The biggest challenge is the unavailability of network records. Hard copy drawings of networks must be available in good condition before they can be incorporated in a GIS . In addition, base maps need to be accurate to reflect the actual state of networks. It is a challenge to train employees to use GIS software, which also needs to be readily available and accessible. Companies are currently bound by login IDs and machines. It is also critical for utilities to form good relationships with vendors in order to find solutions for any problem.
Robust asset management practices are crucial for running CGD utilities efficiently. Physical assets dominate the balance sheets of most utilities, and data deficiencies have often undermined asset management processes. GIS will improve data quality management processes, assist in quickly identifying issues, and support their resolution. Over the past few years, the number of CGD companies adopting GIS technology has increased. Considering the complex nature of the CGD business and its competitive environment, GIS will help gas utilities improve the efficiency of their operations.