The adoption of information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) solutions has become a trend in the city gas distribution (CGD) sector over the past few years. The increasing deployment of advanced IT-OT convergence solutions, including geographic information systems (GIS), has helped companies monitor their assets in real time, with greater precision. The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, which called for remote working, strengthened the case for the uptake of such technologies and increased the digitalisation of the “office”. The impact of the pandemic has also pushed the CGD sector to look at technology solutions to facilitate its operations. Advanced IT-OT convergence solutions are thus finding an increasing number of takers.
GIS technology has become an integral part of CGD business processes, ranging from network planning, engineering, and operations and maintenance to the complete management of network assets. It is used to obtain information regarding the area of a pipeline network, the depth at which the pipe is buried, the diameter of the pipe, the gas pressure, leaks and maintenance, etc., through surveys and mapping. GIS brings additional value to the CGD business when it is integrated with other business applications. Integrating GIS with mainstream CGD operations leads to improved analysis, visualisation, network planning, and informed decision-making.
Gujarat Gas Limited (GGL) is one of the leading natural gas providers, serving more than 1 million customers, including consumers of compressed natural gas (CNG) and piped natural gas users (PNG), across 14 geographical areas (GAs). The company oversees its gas pipeline network, asset management and field operations in order to reach out to every natural gas user in its targeted GAs.
The manual management of millions of gas pipelines was proving to be a big challenge for the company. As GIS applications provide data specifications through an intuitive map interface, Esri India proposed a web-based ArcGIS application to GGL. The main aim was to enable GGL to access network information in real time. The GIS solution helped GGL streamline its field operations and expedite decision-making. It supported GGL’s business operations with well-ordered and on-time network planning, compliance and maintenance. As a result, GGL was able to efficiently manage gas workflows and handle everyday business operations. This provided GGL with a ready-to-deploy mapping application, which offered it map-based insights.
GGL’s decision-makers were able to process network-enabled GIS and non-GIS data for asset management and instant problem-solving. Further, GIS enabled GGL to undertake network planning, compliance and maintenance of its natural gas pipeline network. ArcGIS also enabled GGL to improve gas transmission and distribution through powerful tools, use intuitive digital maps, display all internet data on a single interface, identify affected people and areas during gas pipeline explosions or other emergencies, perform instant customer tracking, rapidly mobilise and respond to emergencies, access high resolution imagery for periodic site surveys, maintain a better pipeline route plan, track valuable assets, and generate detailed reports for better asset management.
The implementation of such an enterprise GIS was a first for a company in the Indian gas utility segment. The ArcGIS application was integrated with the enterprise resource planning solution provided by SAP for better business planning and outage management. It also supported field force requirements and prepared the organisation for the next level – mobile GIS.
Besides GGL, Mahanagar Gas Limited (MGL) has implemented GIS mapping for efficient control and monitoring of its entire CGD network. Indraprastha Gas Limited uses GIS as one of the various methods for controlling and maintaining its huge CNG and PNG networks. Adani Gas Limited also uses GIS for the management of its pipeline network.
One of the challenges being faced by CGD companies is accessing the location and data of field assets. From time to time, pipeline networks are expanded, new networks are commissioned, control devices and fittings are installed, existing networks are diverted and non-working devices are uninstalled. Gathering this information and feeding the data to a GIS is a time-consuming process. To this end, mobile GIS is playing an integral role in visualisation and data acquisition, using handheld devices (phones/tablets). Mobile GIS can make it easy to capture data regarding network and assets from the field, allowing real-time monitoring and data analysis. The use of standard maps or base maps (like in Google Maps) in the backdrop also makes it easier to capture assets. A case in point is MGL, which implemented the web and mobile GIS application, myWorld, for all GIS users in 2015-16. Being focused on “on-the-move usage”, the application has been further enhanced through the introduction of an editing functionality, which allows the mapping of the network to be updated even from the field.
The ArcGIS platform can also be used as an internet of things (IoT) platform, or to complement another IoT platform. Its applications provide real-time situational awareness, whereas applications such as Collector and Survey123 help users capture field data. Besides, applications such as Tracker or Workforce pair well with operations dashboards and provide information on field activities. Over a period of time, there have been improvements in the Spatiotemporal Big Data Store available within the ArcGIS Data Store, which now supports 3D points and fly spatial aggregations. For the GIS system of engagement, there is a new configurable, web-based operations dashboard to support decision-making. The portal for ArcGIS allows for distributed collaboration, which enables multiple portal sharing instead of just one portal shared with multiple groups. This has turned out be a valuable advancement for large organisations, as they need to set up multiple systems of engagement.
The way forward
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. In this regard, the use of GIS improves data quality management, assists in quickly identifying issues, and supports their resolution.
When planning and designing a CGD network, it is imperative to project the demand growth for the next decade in order to avoid frequent network upgrades and estimate the spare capacity. In addition, it is important to identify routes in such a way that maximum reach is achieved through minimum pipeline length; supply pressure at the consumer and intermediate points does not over/undersize any element; and minimal time is taken for designing the network.
Going forward, 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.