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Preventing weather-related power outages using GIS with dynamic data

 
August 19, 2016

I remember spending 12 hours without power during Superstorm Sandy. It had a crippling effect on my daily routine. To prevent such power outages, we may need to first understand what causes them. Power outages can be caused due to several reasons such as aging infrastructure, over-demand, and even falling trees.

Many electricity providers still rely on overhead lines (OHL) to transmit power. In densely populated areas, it is common to see trees touching overhead lines. Natural events such as hurricanes, tornadoes, and snow or ice storms often cause trees or tree branches to fall on them, leading to local power outages. In August 2016, nearly 1,400 Atlantic City Electric customers were affected by an outage caused due to a fallen tree limb.

Another cause of power outages is heavy rain, and subsequent flooding, which can result in damages to both overhead and underground power equipment. Flooding also makes restoration work tougher for field crews, as it blocks underground lines. It is estimated that businesses lose $150 billion annually due to weather-related disruptions.

So, is there a way for utilities to preempt such outages?

Traditionally, power distribution companies have used geographic information systems (GIS) to digitize their networks. A digitized network helps power companies visualize the entire network in one go, and provides information on all mapped assets at the click of a button. It also provides location-wise maintenance schedules, traces probable fault locations in case of outages or other issues, and helps schedule and monitor field work. As a result of these advantages, GIS is an integral part of most power companies IT landscape. But GIS does not have to be limited to these functions; it can be used to effectively manage some of the issues that cause power outages.

For instance, consider a GIS application or system that analyzes images of trees taken regularly to help utilities identify tree branches hanging over overhead lines. This allows organizations to guide field crews to take preventive actions such as pruning the branches. Even if outages happen, despite the preventive steps, you can deploy a faster restoration process, using the same system. That will help the utility company identify where trees have fallen to optimize restoration. Companies like Planet provide low-cost remote sensing satellite services, through which new images from potential trouble spots can be acquired on a daily basis, at low costs.

To prevent floodinganother cause of power outages, spatial analytics can be used to analyze data including images from related past events to identify areas that might be prone to water logging. Using this information, distribution companies can create permanent support structures to protect underground equipment. Three-dimensional content further helps improve the precision of such analysis.

Use new GIS applications along with your existing applications

GIS should not replace the current or traditional applications but complement them. It can be added as a new module to the existing spatial systems. GIS applications can be developed for predictive modeling to help utilities prioritize locations that need infrastructure work, and identify distributed energy resources that provide net benefits.

Biswaketan Kundu (Biswa) is the Innovation Lead for the Geospatial service delivery unit within the Engineering Industrial Services (EIS) business unit at Tata Consultancy Services (TCS). He has over 18 years of experience in the research and development of geospatial products and business solutions. Biswa has successfully delivered several strategic projects across utilities, oil and gas, insurance, and retail industries, and is responsible for developing innovative, cutting-edge technology solutions. He is also involved in sales activities to deepen existing relationships and acquire new customers. Prior to joining TCS, Biswa worked with leading industry players such as Rolta and Esri. He has a PhD degree in Earth Sciences from the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, Mumbai, India.