The geographic information system (GIS) has played a significant role in improving the efficiency of city gas distribution (CGD) entities. It is an invaluable tool that helps in the planning, engineering, and operations and management of the CGD network. GIS adds value to the CGD business by facilitating integration with other business systems. Integrating GIS into the mainstream CGD business process leads to improved analysis, visualisation, network planning and informed decisions.
Objectives of GIS
GIS software companies have introduced solutions for different purposes such as outage management, engineering design, transmission corridor management and network asset management. Gas distribution companies have implemented these products separately to support their business workflows in various departments such as services groups, consumer groups, operations groups and billing groups.
Some of the objectives of the GIS solution are:
- Information management: GIS enables the gas industry in managing pipe network information, device information, user information, economic information and environmental information.
- Integrity management: Gas distribution companies constantly face several risks in the form of leakages, corrosion, excavation damages and unplanned outages. Against this backdrop, it is essential for CGD companies to tackle integrity requirements. For this, GIS technology helps utilities understand the existing network elements such as mains, services, valves, regulators, and cathodic sections and meters. It provides information about the material used for piping, diameter, operating pressure (if the pipe is exposed or cased), and leaks in pipes, network’s repair and maintenance history.
- Leak management: GIS technology provides leak survey tools that allow a gas utility to administer leakage in the distribution system. Leaks are plotted on digital GIS maps, and leak repair schedules can be automatically generated and sent to repair crews located nearest to a leak.
- Risk management: GIS identifies exposed pipes in a particular location. If CGD companies expect the demand for gas to increase in this location, they can make prior plans to replace the vulnerable pipes and reduce the risk of damage.
- Corrosion management: Underground gas distribution pipes are prone to corrosion due to their proximity to the earth. This requires steel pipelines to be cathodically protected. In this case, GIS technology provides companies the visual display of those pipe segments that are covered by cathodic protection and those that are not.
Case study: Gujarat Gas
Gujarat Gas Limited (GGL) is a well-known company providing natural gas, with approximately 1 million customers using its compressed natural gas and piped natural gas services. With 14 geographical areas to cover, it has a wide gas pipeline network to serve these natural gas users.
Field operations, maintenance, asset management and customer services were challenging for GGL due to its manual assessment and servicing approach. The implementation of GIS helped the company through its interactive map interface and real-time application. In addition, Esri proposed the concept of web-based ArcGIS application for GGL for its multiple business operations like network planning, maintenance, observations, expanding and streamlining of field operations.
A real-time decision-making system with better and dynamic gas distribution planning facilities was the priority for GGL. The company wanted to deploy advanced digital solutions for many of its operations. Some of the major needs of GGL were:
- Improving gas distribution services.
- Instant decision-making system for faster gas distribution.
- Enhancing customer satisfaction.
- Emergency resource planning for gas leaks.
- Evacuation plan and safety considerations.
- Customer data and profile management.
- Achieving improved incident management.
Thus, Esri India planned to use an enterprise-level GIS system along with ArcGIS for fulfilling all the needs of GGL. From asset management to gas distribution management at multiple locations, all the tasks can be well managed through GIS. The decision-making for risk management, emergency resource planning and incident management was implemented for GGL through the GIS application.
The major functions of the application employed by ESRI at GGL are:
- Interactive reports through geospatial queries.
- Improvisaition of workflows.
- Efficient data sharing capabilities.
- Centralised database and proper management of data.
- Equipping of decision makers to process network-enabled and non-GIS data.
- Better asset management.
- Accurate decision making and efficient problem solving.
Map-based insights and excellent practices have resulted in many benefits for the company including prompt and mobile emergency services, quick recognition of incident areas and affected people, pipeline maintenance and route tracking, effective site surveys and easy-to-understand daily reports.
Mobile GIS is playing an integral role in visualisation and data acquisition using handheld devices (phone/tablet). A challenge being faced by CGD companies is that of accessing the location and data of field assets. Every now and then, the pipeline network is expanded, control devices and fittings are installed, existing networks are diverted, networks are commissioned and non-working devices are uninstalled. Getting this information and feeding data in GIS is a time-consuming process. Mobile GIS can make it easy to capture network and assets from the field, allowing real-time monitoring and data analysis. Standard maps or base maps (like in Google Maps) in the backdrop also make it easier to capture assets.
A case in point is Mahanagar Gas Limited, which implemented the web and mobile GIS application, myWorld, for all GIS users in 2015-16. The application has been further enhanced by introducing the editing functionality, which enables updating the mapping of the network even from field.
GIS technology is valuable for every industry that needs location-based interactive data manipulation. Physical assets dominate the balance sheets of most utility companies but data deficiencies have often undermined asset management processes. The use of GIS will improve data quality management, assist in quickly identifying issues, and also support their resolution. As the industry matures, the need for GIS in gas distribution is bound to increase. Standards, specifications and technical improvements are constantly evolving to ease and facilitate interoperability between various GIS and non-GIS applications needed by gas utilities. Considering the complex nature of the CGD business and its competitive environment, GIS adoption will help gas utilities improve their operational efficiency.