Spatial data underlies everything an electric utility does. An intelligent power grid requires deep situational awareness of power generation, transmission, distribution, and customer assets to optimize performance and to meet reliability commitments. Land-based and street-level data, ownership/real estate, vegetation, network topology, GPS location data, census data, and many others forms of geospatial information are critical to the successful performance of the smart grid. The geographic information system (GIS) is a foundational technology linking every activity of an electric utility - including design and construction, asset management, workforce management, outage management, and, increasingly, real-time grid operations. The adoption of smart grid technologies by electric utilities is driving renewed attention and increasing investment in GIS and related applications.

According to a new report from Pike Research, utility spending on GIS services, software, and tools will increase steadily over the next five years, reaching $3.7 billion in 2017.

“The smart grid has energized electric utilities to think creatively about how to improve the delivery of electrical power and the business and workflow processes that enable it,” says vice president Bob Gohn. “As the deployment of intelligent field equipment, particularly advanced metering infrastructure, has surged, the applications leveraging this infrastructure are increasingly dependent on GIS-based data for critical real-time performance.”

Broadly speaking, there are eight core GIS-related utility applications in use or nearing deployment today, and they fit into three categories of market maturity: applications already adopted by a majority of utilities, including automated mapping and facilities management, back office, and plant and facility design and construction systems; applications experiencing wide-spread adoption over the next few years, such as asset, mobile workforce, and outage management; and newly emerging GIS-integrated tools, such as advanced distribution management and advanced metering infrastructure.

The challenges to the effective adoption and use of these systems in the electric utility market involve data complexity and quality, mobile workforce requirements, loss of existing GIS knowledge and skills through retirement, organizational structure, and the GIS vendor ecosystem.