Eye on Europe: Visualizing the Network

By Jim Baumann, ESRI

To these ends, the . . . ministers have agreed on the following objectives: . . . Putting more abundant energy at a cheaper price at the disposal of the European economies constitutes a fundamental element of economic progress. That is why all arrangements should be made to develop sufficient exchanges of gas and electric power capable of increasing the profitability of investments and reducing the supply costs . . .
-The Messina Declaration, 1955

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Although much has changed in Europe since the post-World War II reconstruction efforts of the 1940s and 1950s, the objectives of the Messina declaration, written more than 50 years ago, are remarkably similar to those found in recent reports such as “An Energy Policy for Europe,” which was issued earlier this year by the Commission of the European Communities. A key departure in the report, however, is the recognition that renewable energy sources must be further developed and integrated into the power grid.

While there exists a longtime consensus in Europe that the availability of energy (or lack thereof) is a fundamental force that affects all aspects of national and international economies, it is only in more recent times that a sharpened awareness of the finite limits and vulnerabilities inherent in national power initiatives arose, and with it the recognition of the urgent need for Pan-European cooperation.

To stimulate competition and infuse the industry with an influx of capital to fund infrastructure renewal and other projects, the European Union (EU) mandated electric industry deregulation within its member states with an anticipated completion date of July 2007. While national interests and economic constraints have influenced the privatization process, the emerging market is healthier, and EU members have demonstrated a willingness to work together toward their common energy goals.

Spurred by this deregulation, the European power grid has been put under strain in recent years to accommodate the expansion of cross-border transmission from the ever-increasing flow of electricity across the entire continent. Adding renewable energy sources, such as wind-generated electricity, though certainly welcome, has created additional strain on the grid because the fluctuation in wind currents has a direct impact on the amount and location of electricity generated and its point of connection to the grid.

Because of the necessity of load balancing throughout the system, European transmission grids radiate like giant spider webs across the continent, providing an interconnection among power producers to ensure service reliability to the consumer in the event of a fault within the system. However, even with this built-in redundancy, catastrophic faults continue to occur such as the blackout triggered by a temporary shutdown of a primary high-voltage power cable in Germany in November 2006. The shutdown, initiated to allow a ship’s passing, triggered a cascade of outages as automatic safety devices shut off electrical power to millions of customers throughout Europe. However, without these automatic network-monitoring devices, the entire European continent could have suffered a total blackout.

Power transmission and distribution networks are dynamic entities, constantly surveying and resurveying their vital components with automatic monitoring devices in an effort to detect the potential for a failure before it occurs. The driving force-the fuel that sustains this intricate system-is information. Better quality information received quickly promotes better, faster and more accurate decision-making.

With the implementation of a geographic information system (GIS), utility companies are visualizing their networks in a dynamic, comprehensive manner. By including interactive data layers, such as topography, roads, waterways, and right-of-ways, with their other network data, utility companies can better understand and analyze their systems. GIS provides an integrated, geographically referenced perspective, lacking in other management and operational IT systems, that gives transmission and distribution companies the ideal method to leverage database information and automate work processes.

GIS is being used throughout Europe to assist in such diverse applications as right-of-way assessment, load management, environmental impact studies, asset management, customer service, outage management, data collection, workflow management, automated meter reading and route management.

GIS in Action

The ability to draw on data from various sources is key to the success of GIS implementation at Praà…¾skàƒ¡ energetika Group (PRE), in the Czech Republic. ESRI’s ArcGIS software allows the company to work with several different spatial data formats and provides access to that data through the Internet as well as middleware capabilities between RDBMS and other software.

In Germany, utility company EWR AG uses its ArcGIS and related software for network data analysis, which allows the company to efficiently evaluate its asset and network data and use this information for corporate decision-making. Special emphasis has been attached to the integration of GIS with the existing SCADA system so that network faults reported by SCADA can be easily referenced geographically. In the future, local authorities and construction companies will have access to GIS reporting capabilities for emergency and maintenance purposes.

In keeping with the EU’s renewable energy mandates, Dutch energy company Nuon is planning to install wind farms on the continental shelf of the North Sea. Site selection is facilitated with ArcGIS by inputting data on mitigating factors such as shipping traffic, oil drilling operations, bird migration patterns, and military restrictions. Each factor has an assigned value in the evaluation process. These values can be adjusted to accurately develop an environmental sensitivity analysis for the site selection process.

ScottishPower’s mobile GIS enables up to 800 engineers, working across 70,000 miles of electricity networks, to access and record map-based information while in the field. The GIS provides field engineers with immediate access to a complete set of mapping, operation and infrastructure data.

Implementing an enterprise GIS as the integrating platform for the disparate IT systems commonly used by transmission and distribution companies provides geographic reference and analysis unavailable in the management and business process systems regularly accessed by a company’s planning, operations, and commercial divisions. This integrated approach to data access and management saves time and money, allowing companies to realize a greater return on investment.

Jim Baumann writes about international GIS-related topics for ESRI. He has written articles on various aspects of the computer graphics industry and information technology for more than 20 years.

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The Clarion Energy Content Team is made up of editors from various publications, including POWERGRID International, Power Engineering, Renewable Energy World, Hydro Review, Smart Energy International, and Power Engineering International. Contact the content lead for this publication at Jennifer.Runyon@ClarionEvents.com.

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