Union Power Co-op GIS Dashboard Means Real-time, Mobile Access

Crews from Union Power Cooperative in Monroe, N.C., use mobile GIS for a comprehensive view of the electric distribution network.

by Jessica Wyland, Esri

The staff at Union Power Cooperative in Monroe, N.C., use mobile geographic information systems (GIS) to achieve a comprehensive view of the electric distribution network, with data from throughout the company merged into one real-time, easy-to-use map: the Union Power Operations Dashboard.

The cooperative provides electricity and energy-related services to more than 65,000 members throughout the five Southern Piedmont counties of Union, Stanly, Cabarrus, Mecklenburg and Rowan.

The Union Power Operations Dashboard provides real-time and historical outage information, data from the advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) system such as voltage and momentary interruptions, up-to-the-minute work order type and location details plus meter-tampering indications. Using the dashboard, staff quickly can answer questions such as: What is the current operational status of the network? What incidents or outages are occurring and where? Are there any external environmental events that can impact operations?

The dashboard is built on a GIS foundation. Union Power uses ArcGIS technology from Esri, a software and services provider. Because the GIS was already in place, Union Power had to spend little. Union Power Operations and Engineering Support Manager David Gross and GIS administrator Todd Harrington completed the work. A team from Esri’s professional services division helped by adding custom features.

“We have taken the electric distribution dashboard template from Esri and made it work for us,” Harrington said. “We added data from Oracle on the customer information side, automated metering data in an Oracle database, Milsoft data on SQL Server, and some GIS data on SQL Server along with Esri’s Web services.”

The Electric Distribution Operations Dashboard template can be used as a guide for implementing a common operating picture to improve operational decision-making in response to outages and other service-impacting events. Union Power added to its dashboard the electric distribution system, failed reads, work orders and high- and low-voltage data. Utility engineers consult the dashboard each morning before making system decisions.

So far, Harrington said, management is excited and pleased with the dashboard. Within the first week, the system engineer could use the high- and low-voltage data to identify damaged overhead transformers and submit maintenance work orders. Every department companywide can access the dashboard.

“Requests started coming in from users for more and more features,” Harrington said. “When the non-GIS people started submitting ideas for expanded features making use of GIS information, it was more than a hint that the dashboard was something special.”

Features added to the dashboard include right-of-way maintenance, automatic vehicle location, nonpay cutoffs, key accounts and the ability to add or delete notes.

A feature that displays possible meter tampering works especially well.

Information from the AMI system is pulled daily to compare with the customer information system.

A daily email notification with the dashboard data is sent to the appropriate staff person.

“We learned that the dashboard not only provided more information to our employees but was also much faster and easier to use than our existing digital maps,” Harrington said. “It has helped us discover meter tampering a lot faster. Within the first week the meter-tampering widget was live, it recovered more than $3,000 in meter tampering that we may have never recovered or would have taken the next billing cycle to discover.”

The Union Power Operations Dashboard provides an outage overview that keeps management, the communications department and customer service representatives aware of how many and which customers are without power.

Another added feature is the ability to see outage information at a higher level and sorted in ways such as number of members out of power, outages by county, outages by district and number of key accounts without power by category. This means all staff members can see real-time information without requesting data from the dispatch center–a department that usually is busy during large outages.

The dashboard has saved the utility considerable time. Because everything is automated, personnel no longer are tied up with extracting data, cleaning up data and producing maps.

Harrington trained field service personnel, customer service representatives and dispatchers on the dashboard. He also is training linemen and setting up data connections in crew trucks.

Using the dashboard, Union Power can find faulty equipment before it fails and causes an unplanned outage.

The utility community is excited about the Union Power Operations Dashboard. In 2011, Harrington spoke about it at the national Esri Electric and Gas GIS Conference. He and Gross also presented their work at the 2012 Tech Advantage Conference in conjunction with the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association’s annual meeting.

“Based on feedback from other utilities, we have developed some very innovative concepts,” Gross said. “This project will continue to evolve, adding value to our members as it places the efficiency of advanced technology at employees’ fingertips.”

Latest Mobile GIS Trends for Utilities

As technology evolves, so do the flexibility and capability of mobile GIS. Utilities rely on immediate access to up-to-date, real-time information regardless of location.

People need mobile mapping applications to help with decision-making in the field.

But how do utilities connect to mobile GIS? It can be done simply with something many people carry in their pockets: smart phones.

Union Power line workers are trying Esri ArcGIS applications for iPhone and Android to access map services on the dashboard.

Esri’s free smart phone applications may be downloaded from the Apple App Store, Windows Marketplace and Android Market.

All three applications include a developer-focused software development kit (SDK) utility staff may use to build custom applications.

ArcGIS Runtime SDK for smart phones lets utilities build applications with powerful mapping, geocoding, geoprocessing and custom capabilities. Maps and tasks may be embedded into line-of-business applications.

Union Power crews can access the dashboard in their vehicles through wireless connections on laptops. Staff can view the dashboard from home with a user name and password.

Two Union Power trucks are doing a test run of Esri’s ArcPad, mobile field mapping and data-collection software designed for GIS professionals.

The GIS and GPS capabilities let users capture, edit and display information through a multiuser or personal geodatabase.

Utilities are taking advantage of mobile GIS to save time and costs and to bring the average workday up to the speed of new technology.

“Mobile GIS connects everybody–GIS professionals, field-workers, knowledge workers and executives,” said Jack Dangermond, Esri president. “It’s really about extending the reach of your organization so you can have access to real-time, situational awareness.”

For Union Power, connectedness and real-time situational awareness are at hand.

Jessica Wyland is a writer at Esri. Reach her at jwyland@esri.com.

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