Applications of GIS in the Electric Utility Sector

From Google Maps to geotagging on Facebook, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) have become an everyday part of life. Like other computationally intensive fields, GIS has its roots in the 1960s, an era of rapid technological development in computer science. The evolution of quantitative geography paved the way for the GIS platform we know today, and it is now used across all major industrial sectors. In the energy and electric utility arenas, GIS has been applied to infrastructure siting/capacity planning, resiliency analyses, disaster response and more.

What is GIS?

Simply put, GIS translates data about places and locations into a visual format — either interactive maps or static customized maps — allowing us to answer questions and analyze results.

Creating GIS maps requires handling large datasets and performing numerous complex calculations, which can be achieved through GIS software packages. The ArcMap package by Esri is one of the more popular licensed GIS applications that require a fee to access. However, there are also open-source and free software applications, including QGIS and GRASS.

Why is GIS relevant to the electric utility sector?

Even before the era of computational GIS, mapping techniques had been used for oil and gas explorations. Today, with the tool’s expanded capabilities, applications in the electric utility sector include:

How has Advanced Energy used GIS?

GIS-based analyses have been used extensively in connection with electric vehicles (EVs). Utilities (both large investor-owned utilities and smaller electric cooperatives) are interested in the impacts of growing EV adoption in their service territories. Over the last couple of years, we have provided EV strategic planning for utilities in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic and have leveraged Esri’s ArcMap package to answer questions such as:

As an example, we have created maps that overlay the locations of EV charging stations with EV registrations, and detail the proximity of charging infrastructure to roads and highways. This information can help utilities:

What can we expect from GIS in the future?

The definition of GIS has evolved over the years. What used to be a piece of software that was accessible only via a desktop computer has expanded to mobile devices. Cloud computing platforms and hand-held data collection systems have allowed for the efficient gathering and storage of geographic data.

For a utility, these developments could mean being able to collect data on the go and better integrate system components, including customer information systems, work management systems (which track work as it is designed, approved and completed), distribution planning systems, enterprise asset management, outage management, engineering analysis, weather tracking systems, document management, supervisory control and data acquisition, advanced metering infrastructure/meter data management systems as well as automatic vehicle location systems.

As an example, consider Esri’s new desktop application, ArcGIS Pro. ArcGIS Pro’s capabilities include ways to manage transmission congestion in the network, support for updating transmission and distribution lines to reflect grid changes (power plant retirements, new load centers, etc.) and more.

Present-day GIS cannot synchronize all systems; however, GIS software developers and utility operators are starting to recognize the possibilities of integrating spatial analytics with engineering assessments, resulting in more efficient planning and forecasting operations. Ongoing efforts reflect a broader vision for incorporating GIS in the electric utility sector.

Additional resources

To learn more about the role of GIS in the electric utility sector, check out these resources: