PG&E Makes Connections for a Competitive, Diverse Future

PG&E Makes Connections for a Competitive, Diverse Future

By Marvin Penner, PG&E, and Linda Hecht, ESRI

Utilities in the United States have operated in a regulated environment for the past 100 years. Now sweeping changes in California, Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, New York and New England are opening these markets to competition. Companies in these markets will need to embrace new technologies for an edge in gathering and using marketing information and becoming more cost effective. California`s Assembly Bill 1890, which became law Sept. 23, 1996, is being called the industry`s “most reaching” to-date. The law promotes competition in the state`s electric supply industry, requiring an accelerated process that allows all customers to have access to competitive suppliers by the end of 2001. Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) in San Francisco, Calif., is using GIS technology to streamline operations and prepare its business units for this deregulated, more competitive future. PG&E has used GIS software products for nearly 10 years to manage diverse information on its 70,000-square-mile service territory, including 240,000 acres of land, 6,000 miles of mainline gas transmission pipeline and 18,000 miles of electric transmission lines, office buildings, service center yards and power-generating reservoirs. As the regulatory environment changes, these assets will be managed for profit and some, such as the power-producing reservoirs, are licensed to PG&E by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and require the company to submit periodic stewardship plans. The thousands of CAD drawings, database records and spreadsheets PG&E employees maintained for these assets was a paperchase nightmare that could take days to weeks to compile and use on projects such as pipe retrofits or stewardship reporting. To ease the information clog, business units within PG&E are seeking to centralize recordkeeping on these assets with GIS products so information can be found quickly, managed by location, compiled into reports and presentations, and shared within the company and with third-parti

Starting in 1991, PG&E`s GIS services department has been enlisted by the gas and electric transmission business units to use ARC/INFO and Oracle to build and manage a GIS database of the company`s gas and electric networks and land holdings. As these data come online, ArcView, supplied by ESRI, will be used by about 1,000 employees to find and use information in the database. Depending on who`s asking the question and how the information will be used, ArcView will let users “pick” an onscreen object, such as a section of the “backbone” gas pipeline bringing natural gas into the state, and obtain information about it. Gas supply, electric transmission, marketing and other departments will be responsible for generating and maintaining their own data for the GIS, and each has a separate server and network. However, since data are being maintained with ARC/INFO and ArcView, they can be shared throughout the company. For example, if the marketing department wants to send a target mailing to customers near specific powerlines or underground pipes, the infrastructure data can be requested from the other business units. ArcView has been customized by the GIS Services group for applications requested by the other departments and users.

Building Trust

PG&E serves more than 3.6 million gas and 4.3 million electric customers in northern and central California. For decades, PG&E has been the sole energy supplier to these homes and businesses. As required by the state`s utility commission, PG&E supplied power to these customers no matter how far they were located from the company`s existing power network. During the next few years, PG&E customers will have a choice of electric service providers for the first time. PG&E may need to “market” its gas and electric services, in a way that makes the most sense financially. For example, the company might use the GIS to match new service packets to certain customer profiles, expand the network strategically to serve new accounts like office parks and residential developments and even pay to use a competitor`s network where it makes sense to boost market share in new regions. Rather than develop a new system or technology to help the company develop this capability, GIS was selected as the technology to help the company competitively stake out new territories, plan marketing strategy and defend its home turf.

For electric transmission and power generation, the GIS database is utilized to manage watershed information on 140,000 acres. This data is for compliance reporting to state agencies and for FERC relicensing. The focus of GIS has expanded from managing land and environmental issues to facility maintenance and operation. Some 65,000 poles and towers and 18,000 miles of electric transmission data have been digitized and linked to existing facilities databases. With the data now having a spatial identity, the company can provide information integrating facilities, customers and land issues. On the gas transmission side, GIS will link employees to information needed to maintain the pipeline network, respond to emergency situations and grow strategically in the future. “We had hundreds of paper maps that we`d search through when we had a question about the network or an individual pipe,” explained Chris Warner, Gas Supply Technical Services Division GIS project manager. “Rather than automate that same problem with CAD, we decided to create a GIS model of our network that we`d simply modify as changes take place.” They are also being used by field personnel to investigate possible conflicts with construction companies digging near a pipe. The GIS has allowed PG&E to change its way of doing business. This hasn`t been a project with a start and finish date, but rather a process of evolving its business model for the future. The company now trains people to modify the GIS model rather than create a new layer for a CAD system. That will be a huge competitive advantage as the company contemplates competition in a changed market, possibly separating into business units for delivery of gas and electric services. As other states begin deregulation efforts, utilities will need to arm themselves with a similar enterprise-wide technology for gathering, storing and analyzing competitive data.

Author Bios

Marvin Penner is the GIS Project Manager at PG&E.

Linda Hecht is the electric and gas market manager at ESRI Inc., a GIS products and services company in Redlands, Calif.

If you would like to see more articles on this topic, circle R.S. 107.

For more information on this article, circle R.S. 108.

Click here to enlarge image

PG&E`s GIS model manages facility maintenance and operation as well as environmental issues.

Federal Watch

Fifty-one regulatory agencies oversee the practices of 198 publicly owned utilities, hence the pace and kind of “deregulation” seen regionally will vary greatly. However, federal action seems likely to speed and help guide deregulation efforts nationally. U.S. Rep. Dan Schaefer (R-CO) is sponsoring House Bill 3790, which would make states choose their own power suppliers and make their markets more competitive. The bill, along with other initiatives, will be considered in early 1997.


  • 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

Previous articlePOWERGRID_INTERNATIONAL Volume 2 Issue 2
Next articlePOWERGRID_INTERNATIONAL Volume 2 Issue 3
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

No posts to display