(this begins the first of numerous posts from my Intro GIS students on interesting applications of geospatial technologies. Written by student PT)
The Unitil utility company recently combined GIS with what they call advanced metering infrastructure to better manage and understand their network. The goal of the advanced metering infrastructure was initially to reduce the cost of meter reading in New Hampshire and Massachusetts. This means remotely reading meters as opposed to a visit from the utilities man or woman. According to Colorado Springs Utilities, many utility companies are using automated meter reading â€œas a way to improve customer service and control their meter reading costs, especially in areas with fenced yards, dogs, landscaping and other issues that make accessing meters difficult or unsafe.â€
The concepts behind wireless meter reading are explained here and here. Since the data can be downloaded in real time this not only means faster data collection but also a constant monitoring of the performance of the system (e.g., it gives a utility company the ability to see where outages or blackouts occur).
Thanks to GIS, all the data collected is presented in a way that is hopefully more intuitive and beneficial to understanding the network and the customersâ€™ needs. Not only would the company be more efficient but the data would be organized in way that is more convenient to location-based information sharing. Energy supply issues could be predicted with analytical tools available in standard GIS. This would help determine if there is the need for a larger transformer and give the proper time estimates for when a new business can be added to a given power network. The possibilities seem endless, for example, the history of tree trimming could be created and overlaid on the power line network as a way to enhance vegetation management, again with the help of analytical tools provided in GIS.