After the U.S. House of Representatives passed its American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in mid-January, considerable attention has been given to the $32 billion allocated for development of a Smart Grid in the United States. This would represent a significant – and needed – investment in a much neglected treasure of the American infrastructure. There’s widespread acceptance of the notion that a grid that enables price recognition by consumers and maximizes the physical constraints of existing infrastructure deserves attention and funding.

But the United States is not the only country attempting to spark a smarter grid. Internationally, Smart Grid efforts are underway in the United Kingdom and other parts of Europe, with high hopes for emissions mitigation possibilities, and in China and India, where energy reliability and supply are key concerns.

The Smart Grid will work because it will run on data and while data is everywhere, utilities now have the ability to capture and analyze that data in ways that was previously impossible.

In November, Energy Insights published “Ensuring That Spatial Data Can’t Hide,” a whitepaper on the value of access to spatial data in meeting the business needs of today’s utility industry. The whitepaper discusses challenges facing utilities, the intelligent grid’s role in overcomingclip_image002[7] those challenges, and the role that spatial information plays in enabling the intelligent grid.

In the paper, Energy Insights defines spatial data as data that’s “used to represent points, lines, and areas on a surface. In most cases, the data relates to a physical location or geography, which is particularly true for utility companies. This type of spatial data is more specifically known as geospatial data.”

The paper, sponsored by Microsoft, discusses where utilities have fallen short in spatially enabling the intelligent grid and other aspects of their organizations, and how utilities can improve access to their spatial data.

The paper describes how spatially enabling the intelligent grid is becoming increasingly important:

Two key reasons that utilities need this spatial understanding are the distributed, yet connected nature of assets and people associated with the grid and the fact that the intelligent grid will require more personnel to have access to spatial information about the grid, including customer care representatives, dispatch personnel, managers, executives, and field crews. Not only will more personnel need to view spatial information, but as less experienced people join the workforce, they will need easier ways to visualize and think about the grid. Given the spatial nature of the grid, spatially visualizing and analyzing data can paint an even clearer picture of the grid and its behavior. Additionally, an intelligent grid will need more accurate and precise information about grid assets, including the location and connectivity of devices, right down to the customer connection. However, personnel often have difficulty accessing spatial information because this information is siloed and spread throughout the company. Spatially enabling the intelligent grid and the broader utility does not mean that utilities must make substantial investments in new technology.

Rather, utilities often just need to begin to better leverage their technologies. Examples include:

· Implementing enterprisewide spatial data quality and integration capabilities and policies

· Embedding spatial capabilities into everyday sources of information, which could include Web-based access, so that management, executives, remote workers, and even customers can readily access spatial information

· Providing field personnel with the ability to directly update and correct spatial information

This whitepaper is required reading for utilities that are considering what the Smart Grid means to them and how they can develop implementation strategies at the lowest possible cost using technologies that leverage what is already in place. – Jon Arnold, Managing Director, Microsoft Worldwide Power and Utilities Group