GIS moves up a notch with integration of weather technology

By Ronald Sznaider, Meteorlogix

A utility’s primary responsibility is to ensure the delivery of energy to its customers and to control or reduce the number of service interruptions. In both cases, the weather is a primary contributing factor. Now, the availability of GIS-enabled weather information can significantly enhance a utility’s ability to map a wide variety of potentially severe weather events, and mean the difference between a service interruption that is a temporary inconvenience or a lengthy crisis that may impact safety.

Leading-edge technology

For any years, GIS has been used to manage geo-referenced information within a service area. However, access to weather information in the GIS was simply not available. Meteorlogix has now introduced a comprehensive suite of weather data in GIS data formats. Combining real-time and forecast weather information with GIS has significant potential for improving weather-related decision making.

A weather-enabled GIS offers much more than a typical display of weather graphics; it provides the capability of combining the weather data itself with virtually any other geographically based data layer. In addition, GIS spatial analysis tools make it possible to calculate meaningful results to solve more complex business problems.

Meteorlogix provides information that helps determine which storm cells have the highest winds and potential for causing damage. Instead of a National Weather Service watch or warning that covers large geographic areas, utilites can now pinpoint the precise location of a storm cell, where it is moving, and what assets it will affect and when. Meteorlogix weather radar data also differentiates between rain, snow and a rain/snow mix, so transmission engineers can monitor lines for icing effects near a rain/snow line.

A weather occurrence that negatively impacts the delivery of uninterrupted service is severe thunderstorms, with damaging winds and lightning strikes. A GIS enables utilities to track positions of severe storms in real time and correlate that information with outage reports to determine conclusively the cause of a particular outage. This knowledge allows utilities to determine if they will be able to reenergize the affected area remotely, or if they will need to deploy a crew to fix the problem on-site. GIS also enables them to monitor storms that will impact known areas of concern—transmission lines with close-hanging branches, for example.

Integration is key

The combination of energy company assets (generation units, substations, transmission lines), customer information, and weather into a single GIS create a synergy that can greatly enhance the ability to look at data simultaneously and make more accurate decisions, thereby adding value for customers and employees, as well as adding to the bottom line. The click of a mouse can bring GIS weather information into the enterprise network, with data delivery via satellite or the Internet, opening up a myriad of other capabilities.

Improved knowledge of future weather conditions, both in time and space, can help enormously with managing energy loads, allowing more accurate quantification of load requirements. Better decisions can be made in order to avoid buying on the open market at a premium price, or having to fire up auxiliary generators.

Having the appropriate number of technicians on hand to restore power is critical to maintaining high customer service standards, as well as managing a budget. It is essential to efficiently manage crew numbers, yet provide the prompt, quality service that customers expect. GIS information allows utilities to pre-position crews very precisely in a far more tactical manner, saving them time, customers headaches, and the company money.

Sznaider is a meteorologist and Senior Vice President, research and development, of Meteorlogix (formerly known as DTN Weather Services). More information can be found at www.meteorlogix.com.

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