Single tool, multiple benefits

Written by Malabika Sarkar | Malabika Sarkar | Updated: Jan 27 2009, 04:18am hrs
Reliance Infrastructure (RInfra) distributes more than 28 billion units of electricity to over five million consumers in the metropolitan cities of Delhi and Mumbai. The distribution of electricity involves a large physical spread. The assets are spread out, worksites are scattered, offices are dispersed, customers are everywhere and so are the people. This dispersed nature of operation leads to several complexities. Due to the widespread nature of business, the work is influenced by conditions at the sites. The approach to the work, the tools and tackles required, quantum of material needed, the volume of work and skills required, could be different for various worksites.

The physical location and associated complexities is a major determinant as to how the work will be carried out. If, for instance, the company needs to extend the cable to accommodate a new connection, one needs to know which is the nearest junction from where a connection can be extended, whether adequate capacity exits, what is the length of the cable, what are the physical obstructions in pulling the cable, how to extend the cable to its destination, etc. A moments reflection will reveal that these physical conditions will influence the choice of workmen including their numbers, material requirement, the tools and so on.

Geographical information system (GIS) is one application which has the potential to represent the reality along with complexities encountered in the work process and the ideal IT system for the distribution business. Thus, the deployment of GIS was crucial to the planning and execution of field work. Some processes that have been augmented by use of the GIS include, locating faults in the network, network planning including its extension, operations and control of the network deriving from an integration of supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) and GIS, streetlight planning and maintenance.

Prashun Dutta, senior executive vice-presidentquality and IT, Reliance Infrastructure says, The use of GIS is very subjective and is tailor-made for each organisation depending on their business and need. Considering the nature of business we are in, software that would encompass the entire distribution business of RInfra had to be envisaged. GIS was the best reply to all the distribution issues.

Dutta says, When we commenced our journey into developing the IT systems for the distribution business, we did not have a ready model to follow. It was, therefore, an unsubstantiated assessment that the GIS will be a suitable application in our context. The logic was that since physical spread characterised the business, an application, which aids in handling the spatial element, would be of immense value.

RInfra was fortunate to have in fold their sister concern Reliance Communication, which had already implemented a GIS in their operations, and therefore the initial implementation was assisted by them. Meanwhile, the company started collecting data and identifying process and work procedure changes to utilise the full potential of the GIS. To accommodate these work processes, the company had to develop suitable applications within the GIS. Additionally, they started integrating the GIS with other related applications (eg, SCADA) as and when these were implemented.

Newer areas of usage were identified and hence they extended the usage by additional training, and development of applications for specific requirements. This was broadly how they planned for and implemented GIS in the organisation. GIS deployment started in early 2005. It was deployed in Delhi and Mumbai.

GIS is a system of mapping of complete electrical network, including low voltage system and customer delivery points. It captures information in various layers and represents it in the form of a map. These layers correspond to the distribution network, land base including roads, landmarks, buildings, rivers, railway crossings, etc. It also maintains information on the equipment with respect to underground cables, conductors, transformers, towers, etc. Most of the electrical network/equipment has a geographical location and the full benefit of any network improvement can be realised only if the work is carried out in the geographical context. Business processes such as network planning, repair operations and maintenance connection and reconnection are also required to be based around the network model.

Even while doing something as relatively simple as adding a new consumer or service connection in the distribution system, it is vital to know that users of the system are not affected by this addition. GIS, in conjunction with system analysis tools, helps to do just this. GIS when integrated with real-time SCADA can help in clearing outages faster than even before and maintenance crews dispatched with critical information, including location of the fault. GIS environment hosts a wealth of presentation techniques that enable fast and accurate interpretation of results, from power flow results to short circuit analysis.

GIS involves synchronisation of different technologies into one system. It combines computer hardware, software, and data to create a tool for capturing, managing, analysing, and displaying all forms of geographic information. Virtually, any information can be linked to a geographic location, allowing the users to see that information as part of a complete picture to be analysed and applied to a problem or issue. With GIS, people can see firsthand how the things change, view and manage information about locations, analyse spatial relationships, and visualise processes. It is all about making smarter decisions.

Speaking about the challenges, Dutta explains, One of the challenges was to put in the historical data and not to mention the new data that was constantly being added due to the dynamic changes in the field. To be able to do this, an initial survey was carried out for the entire distribution network. Though the primary satellite images were already with us, only the survey would give us accurate details of our land base that constantly kept on changing. The other issue was of storing this voluminous data and maintaining consistency of the same.

Apart from these field problems, one of the most important challenge for RInfra was to accept the drastic technological change while deploying GIS since the company has 75 years of history.

GIS has helped the business by enhancing the efficiency of planning of the network, budgeting, asset management and disaster management. Several other field activities can be accurately planned as all the field information is mapped and is available at the touch of a button. Also, due to the efficiency of GIS to be able to display all the assets and the co-relations therein, better asset utilisation is possible. On the technology front, RInfra is now looking at developing a smart grid, which would be integrated with the GIS and SAP for better control and fault detection and rectification.

In arrangement with Express Computer