By Brad Lawrence, ENMAX Power Corp.
With more than 360,000 residential and business customers, ENMAX Power Corporation (EPC), based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, requires timely management of its infrastructure, such as transformers, power poles, power lines and connected devices. EPC’s customer base and service territory continue to grow and expand: The past 10 years have seen a steady increase of 8,000 to 10,000 new services each year. As result, the need for quick turnaround times on repairs and maintenance, and sophisticated communication with field crews, is growing as well. By implementing GIS (geographic information system) technology, ENMAX has found new ways to reduce costs and increase efficiency.
Slow Updating with Paper Maps
EPC builds, owns and maintains the electrical T&D system serving the Calgary area, and also provides load settlement and other services in areas outside of Calgary. Some of the key services the utility provides include the planning and design of new developments, trouble/outage dispatch, locate services, safety inspections related to encroachments of assets on utility right-of-ways, and tree and shrub trimming.
EPC’s ability to carry out these services rests heavily with its field crews. Whether the crew is performing maintenance, restoring electrical service, or installing new electrical infrastructure, they are sharing information with planners, engineers and operators in the EPC Control Centre. The way the company inputs, accesses and shares its mapping data has gone through extensive changes over the past years.
Before implementing GIS, EPC used a paper-based process to manage the maps of its electrical infrastructure assets. Since paper maps couldn’t be updated in a timely way-and because information about EPC’s infrastructure was used for a variety of purposes, including facility locating, outage management and load-flow analysis-workflow redundancies were inevitable. Asset data were being stored in various formats and for various reasons by different work groups, which created even more data discrepancies. EPC needed to consolidate and validate the existing data and make it accessible to those that needed it, since this would pave the way for many business process improvements and efficiency gains.
The field crews were particularly hampered by paper-based maps. Crews typically arrived at a job site with a stack of paper maps or microfilmed maps, which had to be viewed using an old-fashioned viewer. Not surprisingly, the data contained in these maps wasn’t in great shape. Crews often couldn’t tell which map overrode another, or which was the most accurate or the most recent. For instance, workers might arrive at a site to perform maintenance on a power pole, only to discover the transformer had been moved months before.
Keeping up with crew reports about discrepancies in the maps was becoming increasingly difficult. Prior to the GIS data conversion, there was a backlog of more than 6,000 changes or discrepancies that needed updating to the master record set.
Unfortunately, EPC had no efficient system for making the necessary map updates. The crews would mark the changes on the paper maps, bring them back to the office, and the maps would be piled up in an as-built cabinet. The crews became discouraged about reporting discrepancies, because they knew it might be years before the updates were made. They didn’t think they were making a difference and lost confidence in the maps. Some even stopped reporting changes or tracked them only on their map books.
EPC’s locate services division also suffered from the outdated information contained in the paper maps. The hit rate ran as high as nine hits per 1,000 calls.
24-Hour Updating with GIS
The obvious solution to EPC’s mapping problem was a GIS solution that would provide a central repository for digitized maps and an easy way to input corrections and updates. In addition, field crews needed ready access to maps, plus the confidence that any reported discrepancies would be handled with a quick turnaround. In short, EPC wanted its field crews to take ownership of the data again.
The first step was the installation of GIS server technology (Autodesk’s GIS Design Server, formerly VISION*). This would help EPC consolidate all of the mapping and infrastructure records into one database. EPC also implemented Autodesk Map as the GIS records application.
After converting the infrastructure maps into digital formats, the change in workflow was dramatic-most notably for field crews. EPC now equips its service trucks with laptop computers containing current GIS information, along with printers in selected units. All the information the crew needs, including pole and transformer locations, pole heights, and dates of equipment installation, is available for display wherever the crew goes. They have full attribute review of all objects, as well as a robust querying tool available to them. The use of a highly detailed digital ortho landbase is also a great benefit for locating hard-to-find facilities.
When a field worker identifies an infrastructure maintenance issue, or finds an error in a map, he can print a copy of the map and send it to the GIS maintenance group for updating. The discrepancies are now corrected within 24 hours. EPC has a different person on rotation every week, who spends the first part of their morning updating the GIS database with the previous day’s submissions.
“I no longer have to fumble through paper circuit books looking for the information I need,” said one longtime EPC firstline responder (trouble crew). “All the information is now at my fingertips, and the GPS moving map is great. Whenever I stop at a service address, the map is always displaying my exact location, and I can see all the related information I need instantly.”
With the combination of the GIS applications, EPC’s outage management system, and its computer-aided dispatch module, the firstline and service crews send and receive their work orders to and from their laptops to the System Control Centre wirelessly. The dispatcher now knows when the crews have completed a job and where they’re going next, so jobs are prioritized and properly managed. Automated vehicle locating (AVL) technology is also available to track the crews’ vehicle locations as required.
GIS is also improving service to EPC customers who contact the utility with questions. For instance, if an EPC customer calls about adding electricity to an outbuilding on their property, the EPC job planner/designer has instant access to the maps for the specific customer address and can e-mail the customer a JPEG map of the service. The planner and the customer can discuss the electric infrastructure in the area, while both looking at the same map.
Analysts and engineers also make use of the updated maps and corresponding GIS data. They can use it to examine trending-for instance, where conductors are failing or where load growth is happening.
Locate Services Hit Rate Drops Dramatically
The workflow redundancies that were common with the paper-map system have now been greatly reduced. EPC’s outage management and load flow systems are integrated with its GIS server utilizing the electrical connectivity data; this ensures that changes to one system (GIS) are instantly available in the other systems.
Access to GIS data is also making it easier for EPC to manage pole-access fees-a valuable source of revenue that’s sometimes overlooked in a utility’s day-to-day operations. Because pole networks change frequently, accurate billing is difficult. After implementing its GIS server, EPC was able to conduct a detailed audit of its shared poles and configured the system to input and track changes, making accurate billing easier.
Thanks to GIS, efficiencies are also apparent within the locate services division. EPC has streamlined the locate service by creating a locating consortium with the other local water, sewer, gas and phone companies. All of the participating utilities supply their maps electronically to a contract locator, and share the cost of the locate. Now EPC has only four locate vans and four to six employees to provide services that used to take 20 vans and 24 people.
The result: The number of “hits” per 1,000 locates has fallen from 9 to just 0.25. This has also significantly reduced the annual locating budget from the pre-GIS days. While it is hard to put an exact dollar value on the savings from the lower hit rate, EPC knows that it is avoiding substantial maintenance costs by lowering the hit rate. More importantly, by providing accurate, accessible GIS mapping data, EPC is making it safer for the public and for the customers for which it is providing the locate services.
Bradley (Brad) W. Lawrence is supervisor of records, survey and land management for ENMAX Power Corporation, Support Services. He has worked for EPC-formerly The City of Calgary Electric System-for the past 25 years. He spent the first half of his career working in field operations as a journeyman power lineman. The past 12 years he has been involved with all aspects of GIS at EPC. Brad has been a GITA member since 1997 and has been involved locally with GITA’s Alberta Chapter over the past four years, residing on the board of directors. He also presently sits on SAIT’s (Southern Alberta Institute of Technology) GIS Advisory Council for its Bachelor of Applied GIS Degree Program.