How Geographic Information Systems (GIS) can fuel energy transition.

With energy transition peaks, challenges arise as Dutch transmission and distribution (T&D) entities seek a way to cope with the rising demand. One possible solution that can come in handy is the utilization of GIS. Here's how these companies can unlock the full potential of GIS and power the energy transition.
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As a result of the energy transition, Dutch T&D companies face challenges caused by the increasing erratic demand and supply of electricity in their grids. 

On the demand side, the adoption of electric vehicles in the Netherlands is rapidly growing, supported by ambitious stimulation policies in recent years. Recharging data shows that most of the electric car drivers recharge their vehicles during existing peak demand.

On the supply side, the rapid increase in photovoltaic and wind energy causes capacity peaks, depending on weather conditions. T&D companies in the northern part of the Netherlands have warned local governments and private entrepreneurs that the grids in the specific areas don’t have enough capacity to support any plans for the further expansion of solar parks in the region. More recently, local governments in the Amsterdam region stated that they wouldn’t grant new permissions for the development of more datacenters in the region, because of capacity shortage of the grid

These examples are part of three essential trends regarding energy infrastructure planning, energy generation, and storage: 

  • planned production towards fluctuating production on the basis of renewable energy sources;
  • centralized generation towards decentralized generation; and
  • expensive energy carriers towards cost-free energy carriers.

Given these trends, T&D companies need to invest in considerable modifications of the energy infrastructure Geographic Information Systems (GIS) have huge potential for contributing to the necessary geospatial analyses and visualization methods for awareness-building and decision support.

Imminent challenges for Geographic Information Systems 

Considering the current speed of the energy transition, the broad social call for more measures to reduce carbon emissions, and the limited capital availability for energy infrastructure investments, T&D companies have to make choices. For these decisions, to be able to analyze and simulate scenario’s on where to do what at which point in time is becoming more critical. Methods used for creating scenarios, model them, and simulate the options go by the name Energy System Modeling techniques. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) have major potential for contributing to the necessary geospatial analyses and visualization methods for awareness-building and decision support.

Several challenges prevent T&D companies from unlocking the full potential of GIS systems to fuel the energy transition 

Challenge 1: Temporal dynamics in GIS for making simulations

To better understand the spatio-temporal dynamics of energy demand, capacity and load patterns of energy infrastructures, and the return of investments and economic profitability, space and time need to be fully integrated into energy system modeling processes. 

The use of GIS will add the spatial dynamic to these modelling processes, but currently, it is not suitable for supporting any timely dynamics at most T&D companies yet. Planned, designed and built grid components all intermix in the same database. That’s why, for most companies, the current GIS lacks the capability to simulate different scenarios in Energy System Modeling. Adding the temporal dimension to the GIS by–for example introducing a status workflow per asset–would equip the GIS with all the data to simulate different scenarios for Energy System Modeling. 

Challenge 2: Reliable data to use in energy system modeling

At most T&D companies, most asset data were simply accumulated, while smaller regional T&D companies merged into the larger ones that we have nowadays. Unsurprisingly, the data comes from various sources, and multiple data standards have been followed over time. This generally has a negative impact on data quality

The lack of data quality comes along with other difficulties: software must cope with several data exceptions; users find it hard to interpret data in a common way; and systems need specific adjustments for various standards.

To use GIS data for proper energy system modeling, all available geospatial data should be digital and structured in the same way, and data quality should be fully reliable. Several measures T&D companies could take to create such reliable data are:

  • Implementation of a Common Information Model,
  • Standardization, digitization and – eventually – automation of asset data delivery and registration processes, and
  • Execution of data quality improvement projects to solve current data quality issues

“Geographic Information Systems (GIS) have major potential for 
contributing to the necessary geospatial analyses and visualization methods for awareness-building and decision support”

Challenge 3: GIS system integration to create more comprehensive energy scenario’s

In today’s IT architectures, it is crucial–especially for a company’s core systems–to have possibilities for digital integration with other applications through, for example, webservices. The GIS of a T&D company typically has to be able to integrate more and more with:

  • Other core systems of the company, like its ERP and SCADA systems;
  • External data sources, for example asset data registration tools of contractors; and
  • Visualization and simulation applications, such as mobile grid viewer apps for fieldworkers, or load prediction tooling.

To contribute to energy system modeling techniques, GIS data might have to be combined with other relevant data. This could be all different kinds of information: think of real time asset performance data to local land prices in order to predict the likeliness of new solar park investments. Furthermore, results of geospatial analyses in GIS have to be unlocked and presented in applications used for visualization and decision support. 

Integration of the GIS with other data sources and applications is thus crucial in adding essential geospatial dimensions to energy system models.

What would be next?

When above-mentioned GIS challenges are tackled properly, your T&D companies can move itself into a position where it can actively facilitate and accelerate the energy transition. Based on energy system modeling relying on trustworthy geospatial asset data, they are more likely to make the right investment and maintenance decisions, even with constraints such as the lack of engineering resource availability and limited investment capital taken into account. Investing in (1) the incorporation of the temporal dynamic in their GIS, (2) the reliability of their Asset Data, and (3) open up the GIS to combine different data sources for analysis purposes, T&D companies would be able to predict where and when problematic events—such as a shortage of capacity to support local green initiatives—are likely to occur and let the local grid be ready for it in time.

“T&D companies can move themselves into a position in which they can 
actively facilitate and accelerate the energy transition”

Dealing with these GIS challenges, however, may not be simple. But the good news is that we are here ready to help you! With in-depth experience in Smallworld- and/or ESRI GIS products, we can help facilitate your GIS system and solve the challenging affiliated obstacles.

Authors: Menno Kuijpers Daan Robeerst