GIS Challenges in the Power Industry

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) play a critical role in the power industry. Access to various types of data—such as asset data, project management data, and construction data—is essential for efficient operations. However, as the industry has evolved, so have the complexities and challenges associated with managing this data. This exploration will cover the benefits and challenges of GIS in the power industry and how to address them.

When thinking about GIS, the first image that often comes to mind is maps with assets represented on them. For example, a drawing may show different types of representations of the same asset: squares, circles, poles, and icons. These symbols might represent distribution poles or, in some GIS systems, the actual conductors and circuits that carry the flow of electrons. Essentially, these different representations visualize the same assets in various ways.

One major challenge with GIS is the complexity of data representation and visualization. This complexity includes how data is inputted, updated, and accessed. Often, it requires specialized knowledge to manage these systems, leading to the need for dedicated GIS analysts. These analysts help sort through the complexity and act as references for other personnel. However, this complexity can also create availability issues. Field personnel, who could greatly benefit from access to this data, often find it inaccessible. A dedicated person, acting as a gatekeeper, might control data access, leading to bottlenecks and hindering the timely availability of data to those who need it most.

Accuracy is another significant issue in GIS. The adage “garbage in, garbage out” applies here. For accurate information, field crews need the ability to update data directly. However, they are often blocked from making updates and must go through cumbersome processes like submitting requests via email. This not only delays updates but also doubles the effort required. For instance, in one project, field personnel had to document data with pen and paper, leading to increased project costs.

For GIS data to be actionable, it must be accessible and timely for both field and back-office personnel. For instance, during an inspection, if a field technician measures the resistivity of a ground wire, a modern GIS should provide immediate feedback on whether additional ground wires are needed. Similarly, real-time communication between the field and the back office, facilitated by dashboards and live feeds, can significantly improve responsiveness to issues like equipment faults or safety hazards.

While there are numerous challenges with GIS, particularly with outdated systems, there are also many opportunities for improvement. By enhancing data accessibility, streamlining update processes, and leveraging real-time communication tools, the efficiency and accuracy of GIS in the power industry can be significantly improved.

Stay tuned for more insights and resources on how to overcome GIS challenges and make the most of this powerful tool in the power industry.


About the Author:

Dr Nathan Wallace, PE has BS degrees in Electrical Engineering, and Physics, a MS in Engineering, and a Ph.D. in Engineering from Louisiana Tech University. Nathan is a CoFounder and Director of GridIntel. Nathan is actively involved in the IEEE-PES PSRC and PSCC technical committees and currently chairs two IEEE standards development working groups. Nathan is a licensed PE in AL, LA, MS, OH, and TN.