GE Smallworld: Science to place systems in sync

08:00 | 19/12/2016
Smallworld, GE’s suite of Geospatial Information System (GIS) software, brings network assets together and enables utilities to streamline business processes, boost productivity, and provide better services to customers. Hai Tram reports.
ge smallworld science to place systems in sync

The need for geospatial solutions

The smart grid has evolved, resulting in utilities collecting more data than ever before, with the volume promising to increase dramatically in the coming years.

Often, this data is generated by applications run by business units on an ad hoc basis. For example, the installation group generates network configuration data, the maintenance department monitors service areas, and the finance department manages the cost of network assets.

Since these applications were not designed to interoperate, these solutions act as information silos. Information is quarantined locally rather than being made available throughout the enterprise.

As departments capture critical business process information, access is limited. Managers can see fragments of the operations but are challenged to access all necessary information in order to improve efficiency and effectiveness. In this context, utilities need a cohesive, consistent view of their network to optimise business operations.

Geospatial systems best meet this need. A geospatial information system (GIS) is valuable to industries as it provides a system for managing business information according to location and brings together data with a shared spatial component, thus revealing trends and patterns that would not be apparent with tabular databases.

Moreover, GISs have become more accessible to different departments in a company thanks to simplification over time. Once understood only by engineering and maintenance teams, now geospatial system interfaces have improved, data input and manipulation has become simple and as a result more employees use the systems and understand its capabilities.

As a result, geospatial solutions now act as data hubs, marshalling and homogenising information from disparate sources. Consequently, data is no longer siloed in various departments. Instead, geospatial visualisation tools tie different data sources together, allowing managers and employees to gain fuller, richer pictures of network assets. Employees see connections that were not previously evident. Energy providers are thus much better positioned to deliver strong return on investment (ROI) on network assets.

Leading utilities are building on this foundation: rather than one autonomous system, their core systems consist of a comprehensive portfolio of solutions that support many critical processes. These solutions are used by the planning, design, building, operating, and maintenance departments and support numerous functions, including strategic planning, network planning, network design, network building, and network services extensibility.

When looking to deploy these solutions, utilities would benefit from working with a supplier with extensive experience as well as a product portfolio that extends to every area of the enterprise. This way, no matter what view of the network data the user needs, the solution provides it.

Experience is also key. Deploying and maintaining an energy network is a complex process, one that requires decades of experience to understand fully. The supplier needs to have deployed solutions among the world’s large and small energy providers. By working closely with energy firms, the supplier identifies critical areas and develops solutions that address them. Some suppliers have strong technical foundations, while others have developed utility-specific applications, a few have been in the market for a several years, but only the leading suppliers possess all of these capabilities.

GE poised to deliver

GE is in the privileged position to provide geospatial solutions that help utilities streamline business processes, enhance customer service, and maximise investors’ returns.

The coming together of GE’s and Alstom’s portfolios is more than the best of both. The alliance offers customers a new, cost-competitive “one-stop shopping” alternative backed by the combined project management and technology expertise to build things others could not and deliver projects on time and on budget.

Utilities around the world are under immense pressure to maximise the efficiency and stability of the grid to compensate for the retirement of 750 GW of coal-fired capacity by 2030. They must also move an increasing amount of energy from distant distributed power generation sources, such as hydro and offshore wind farms, to consumers efficiently. Grid Solutions is now equipped to meet these global challenges with Alstom’s cutting-edge High Voltage Direct Current portfolio.

The “Always On” digital economy depends on reliable, resilient, and secure electricity. The expanded global footprint of Grid Solutions puts GE closer to customers to meet this challenge across borders and across the globe. Meanwhile, Grid Solutions outage restoration management tools help restore power quickly when unexpected weather events lead to power outages.

Besides, the alliance also helps customers manage aging assets, identifying electrical and chemical abnormalities up to six months in advance, reducing equipment damage and downtime costs, as well as build safe and efficient substations.

In software, GE has coupled its asset management and advanced distribution offerings with Alstom’s e-terra Transmission and Market management platform to establish a leading premier package for enterprise grid management. Smallworld, its suite of software applications that provides geospatial asset management to support electric network planning, design, and analysis, as well as maintenance and operations, is part of this offering.

GE’s Smallworld GIS and Mobile GIS applications play a key role in constructing, operating, maintaining, and managing critical network assets. This comprehensive suite of integrated tools enables customers to lower the cost of ownership, simplify critical network infrastructures, and deliver the flexibility required to meet dynamic network requirements.

Smallworld GIS provides an accurate, enterprise-wide view of the electric network, eliminating asset data inconsistencies. It supports simple configurations and minor extensions, rather than expensive customisations.

Smallworld also provides a single solution enabling utilities to document, plan, design, analyse, build, and maintain the electric network. As a result, it helps reduce interface costs and complexity, cuts installation, operation, and upgrade costs—all-in-all between 20 and 40 per cent of GIS operating expenses. In addition, it reduces expensive and risky software customisation, which signifies another 50-70 per cent of GIS capital expense.

In short, the system simplifies access to geospatial network data to support faster, smarter decisions in asset management through the entire asset lifecycle.

GE sees GIS as fundamental to a network utility business, and GE’s solutions link the utility business and its customers. However, GE believes a utility GIS needs to be more than a mapping system—it needs to model the network and present it in the forms most fitting to the use of the business.

This may be a control room using a DMS to operate and control based on a common network model, a call centre team in need to quickly search for an EVN customer profile, or a field crew working needing to update information based on what they see in the “real world.” Maps may often be the means of presenting the information, but the network information is the fundamental information needed to carry out the work or job. GE’s solution is network centric and provides tools for integrating the network model with other business-critical systems.

GE’s Smallworld has helped many network-based utilities around the world to improve productivity. One of the success stories has been recognised in Malaysia. About seven years ago, the Malaysian largest electricity utility corporation had silos of various systems and departments with no clear way to share information between them, because assets and customers were represented differently across systems. The inconsistency led to some potentially unreliable reports, leaving little confidence in data. On top of these, there were regulatory compliance pressures.

In this context, the management made the decision to implement an integrated system and chose corporate geospatial system software GE Smallworld.

As of now, GIS is an integral part of most of the business processes. The utility achieved GIS visibility across departments. The implementation improved efficiency and reliability of crucial business processes, such as new connections, project planning, and customer service.

“GE’s vision is to simplify access to geospatial network data to support faster, smarter decisions in asset management through the entire asset lifecycle,” said Bryan Friehauf, Asset Management Product Line leader for Grid Software Solutions Business from GE Energy Connections.

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