As I write this, my daughter is on the verge of giving birth to her first child. As far as we know, she is not having twins. But you never know. So the notion of digital twin came to my mind.
Some people call the geographic information system (GIS) a digital twin of the grid. It captures grid assets and their locations. It includes their attributes and some behavior. Yet most geographic information systems are incomplete—missing critical parts. Rarely does GIS model electrical substations. Hardly ever does it dive into power plants. It's incomplete, as confirmed by this recent survey.
The problem for many utilities is that GIS has many brothers and sisters that could claim also to model the grid. Take SCADA, for example. It simulates the real-time operation of the grid. How about the asset management system? It includes the maintenance history of every asset and has some of the same data that lives in the GIS. An advanced distribution management system (ADMS) has a model of the distribution network buried within its bowels. It, too, duplicates data in GIS. Even advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) systems model a part of the grid. Utilities maintain models of the grid in their analytics programs, such as load flow, stability and short-circuit analysis. In each of these instances, the twins are not identical—they look alike until you dig deeper.
The notion of a single source of the truth for a utility is a myth. There is no digital twin. There are eight. Probably more.
So what? Is that a problem? Yes. Having eight children at the same time creates chaos. Too many things happen at the same time. Having multiple, similar, but not identical versions of the grid nurtures inefficiencies. It promotes errors. It swells restoration time. It weakens asset management.
What's the answer? Rethink the role of GIS in four new ways:
GIS as a Portal to the Grid
Stop calling it the digital twin. The GIS is a natural place to consume data from its siblings—like SCADA, ADMS, short circuit, load flow, and work and asset management systems and even substation and power plant CAD systems. GIS organizes their data by location. To do that, the GIS must be a system of engagement, consuming data easily in real time. This is what Esri ArcGIS does, since it is based on the technology of web services. Just like social media. Think of GIS as the place where all the siblings gather. Pull data together—insight happens. Coordination flourishes. Communication thrives. Chaos fades.
GIS as a Precise and Complete System of Record
ArcGIS has been reformed to go well beyond a 2D mapping system. It is 3D enabled. Just like real life. It is a precise system of record for grid assets, their locations, and their relationship to each other and their surroundings. Other systems such as SCADA, ADMS, and work and asset management have different roles. They are about control, dispatch, outage management, measurement, and customer service. That's okay.
GIS must be a complete representation of the grid, from power plant to transmission to substations to customers. The latest network management technology provides precise network modeling of devices, structures, and their relationships. Does this mean that GIS replaces ADMS or load flow systems? No—it means the opposite. GIS needs to feed these systems to free up what they do best.
GIS as Something More than a Digital Version of a Paper Map
For decades, GIS for electric utilities has produced digital versions of hard-copy maps. The focus has been on cartography—the underlying theme has been for the GIS to automate the process of making maps, with all the characteristics of traditional mapmaking. That includes white space management, placement of labels, and annotation. Dumbing down the maps doesn't help, either. It just creates simplified versions of the data on mobile devices. It creates yet another brother or sister to add to the chaos. But the GIS remains an accurate model of the grid—not a paper map disguised as a digital file.
GIS as Being about Discovering Something New
GIS creates location intelligence. It uncovers patterns and reveals hidden issues. How? By consuming data from nearly any source. Within the utility. From the web. From other traffic, weather, lightning, and imagery services. It adds this to the precise and detailed asset model of the grid. Then—using artificial intelligence, spatial analysis, and machine learning—it discovers opportunities. And vulnerabilities. For better decision-making.
ArcGIS is better than a digital twin. It works cooperatively with all the other systems in the utility. It gives utilities the tools to improve data quality by enforcing rules for adding and consuming grid data.
Utilities have multiple representations of the grid. The GIS provides a means for bringing those disparate representations together. Think of having to manage eight children at once. That's what utilities must do sometimes. GIS brings order to that chaos.
For more information on how ArcGIS provides a system of record, of engagement, and of insight for better asset management download our free ebook.
Author: Bill Meehan
Image credit: Pixabay
This article was previously published on Energy Central.