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What’s keeping utilities awake at night?

Profile of By Andy Wilson
By Andy Wilson
Director, UK and Europe, Ordnance SurveyAndy has over 30 years experience in the geographic information industry and is a member of the Chartered Management Institute and a Fellow of the Royal Geographic Society.

Utility companies are under pressure. The responsibility of providing everyone with life’s essentials - water, electricity and connectivity, is a heavy burden to carry.

If they get it wrong their customers can suffer serious consequences. The regulator will impose fines. The government will throw complex legislation at them to keep them in check. Which is a lot to keep people working in the utilities sector awake at night.

On top of that, they’re under pressure to take cost out of their businesses. While repairing networks and planning new infrastructure. Then you throw in the intertwined strands of gas, water, fibre and electricity – who have to work together to ensure they don’t break each other’s assets when they dig up a road.

So how can we all sleep better? 

Streetworks with pipe being laid in a trench
Streets are important because a vast amount of infrastructure exists around them.

We provide the spatial foundations to help build a complete picture of assets so networks can be managed effectively. If you know where your gas assets are, you can communicate that information with the water and fibre sectors.

Streets are important because a vast amount of infrastructure exists around them. They are the bloodlines on which services to homes and businesses flow.

Creating order from complexity requires careful and detailed collection of asset data

Abstract data image
Recognising changes to infrastructure is going from 2D to richer streetscape maps which will soon become 3D data sets of assets in the street environment.

This type of technology already exists. Recognising changes to infrastructure is going from 2D to richer streetscape maps which will soon become 3D data sets of assets in the street environment.

We call it High Definition (HD) mapping, and by that we mean three things;

  1. Detail – this relates to the description of an entity
  2. Density – the spatial granularity that you are mapping
  3. Dynamic – the currency in real or near-real time

So, capturing a rich view above the streets is happening, but what about blurring the edge between above and below? Can we achieve the same detailed view below the streets? We believe so, and we’re working on two major initiatives to make this vision a reality.

Dug up road with utility pipes laid in a trench
Capturing a rich view above the streets is happening, but what about blurring the edge between above and below? Can we achieve the same detailed view below the streets?

We know utilities need to avoid strikes on pipes under the street, and we know a co-ordinated view of streetworks will help avoid congestion.

At the NWG Innovation festival recently we explored and tested ideas around delivering high-quality detail of street assets to customers. We learnt that utility companies are interested in real-time analysis to identify sources and causes of faults and to create efficiencies in maintenance programmes.

Keeping the streets uncongested and the country moving, is why the Traffic Management Act 2004 was set up to create effective communication between everyone carrying out streetworks. All well and good if utility companies are willing to share commercially sensitive information. But they’re understandably not willing to.

The Geospatial Commission launched two projects to bring this vision to life. We’re a key partner to the government’s ambition to bring together the existing data on underground pipes and cables to

create a National Underground Assets Register. This has begun with pilot projects in London and the North East, to test the feasibility of the project.

Water companies have always been under pressure to fix leaks. That pressure is becoming particularly intense with predictions of water shortages in the future. Fixing leaks quickly can be achieved if a water manager knows a puddle is forming before anyone else does. Again, fleet technology can detect these issues quickly.

A major concern for power companies is vegetation interfering and impacting power lines. Monitoring these with aircraft is expensive. We’re exploring drone and other technologies that keep power companies informed on foliage encroachment, more regularly with less cost.

We have explored the potential of machine learning to automatically provided information on flat roofs to help plan where solar panels could be implemented.

We’re helping utility business reduce costs in their businesses by advising how their assets can be better managed. Come and talk to us and learn more.

Profile of By Andy Wilson
By Andy Wilson
Director, UK and Europe, Ordnance SurveyAndy has over 30 years experience in the geographic information industry and is a member of the Chartered Management Institute and a Fellow of the Royal Geographic Society.