How are utilities dealing with shrinking revenues, rising costs and skyrocketing demands while strengthening resiliency?
The answer: they are building tougher, smarter, more secure and healthier grids.
However, this is much easier said than done. Grid modernisation is neither a quick nor easy switch. Utility companies globally must navigate through the operational and budgetary challenges of maintaining and managing their existing networks, while planning and building the grid of the future.
This post summarises some of the key drivers of grid modernisation my colleagues, Pat Hohl, Tyler Pilarcik and I discussed in this recent webinar.
Key drivers for grid modernisation
Some of the key external drivers we’re seeing for grid modernisation globally include:
De-carbonisation: many countries and regional jurisdictions have committed to reducing their carbon emissions to close to zero by 2050. Due to tax breaks and other government support, Europe is leading the way in the transition to renewable energy sources. As other governments follow their lead, utility companies will come under even greater scrutiny until they reach renewable targets.
Electrification: the demand for electricity from a wide range of once fossil-fuelled industries is having a substantial impact on the electricity infrastructure. You only have to look around to see the increasing number of electric buses, trucks and vehicles in the transport industry for example, to consider the strain on an already overloaded grid.
Guaranteeing supply amidst this increased demand, is also a critical issue. Eight years ago in Indonesia, for example, only 67 per cent of the population was connected to the grid. Now it’s a staggering 98 per cent. Demand has jumped dramatically and the infrastructure is struggling.
De-centralisation: as the demand for electricity grows, so too does the need to house its alternatives. Whether it’s solar farms, hydro or wind farms, the challenge of where to put renewable energy infrastructure is one that utility companies must consider very carefully. A geographically dispersed power supply model brings even more operational challenges than that of a traditional centralised distribution model.
Digitisation: in our experience in working with utility companies around the world, we see many still relying on paper-based records. Hand-plotted maps, paper documents and disparate processes for collecting and storing information about a network, are just some operational areas that are impossible to scale without going digital. The need for a transition to digitisation is evident with every client we speak to. Utilities are amassing more data – and they need it – but only if, and when, it’s in a format that enables informed decision making.
These external drivers – in addition to each organisation’s own strategic priorities – make it increasingly important for utilities to be able to truly understand their network, its connectivity, and what is going on within and around it.
I elaborate further on these points in this article about how and why utilities are shifting to renewables.
How geospatial technology drives grid modernisation
In the webinar, we gave practical demonstrations of how geospatial technology can be used as the underpinning platform to provide a single system of record for utilities – now and into the future.
We also explored three key areas in which GIS technology is strengthening resiliency, security and sustainability efforts in the utilities sector:
Unifying IT/OT Convergence: GIS has traditionally worked well with asset management systems – but it must now shift into the control room – the Advanced Distribution Management System (ADMS). More than ever, the control room needs better location context, in real time – and GIS technology can provide a full model of the grid, from transmission to the customer.
Spatial Analysis: A modern utility needs greater insights into the behaviour of its grid – both in relationship to its surroundings and its threats – and location plans an essential role. Spatial analysis tools sharpen your understanding of where the network is most at risk.
Operational Awareness: GIS technology is ideal for operational and situational awareness in typical conditions – but it’s even more critical during outages and disasters. It provides the ability to manage and respond to emergencies more effectively in real time, because data can now be pushed to the field to provide an understanding of what is happening to the network. This has huge implications for the safety of field crews, with issues like road closures and flooding – enabling teams to respond more effectively in real-time. This technology also makes it easier and quicker to share the immediate state of the grid with corporate executives, customers, the media, and governments.
GIS technology provides the core functionality to help utilities understand how to get the grid from where it is today to where it needs to be.