Geospatial Tech Transforms Smart Grid Performance

June 05, 2024 by John Nieman

Black & Veatch has developed Canada’s first award-winning community-wide smart grid, deploying geospatial technology to improve grid resilience and reduce carbon emissions.

Renewable energy solutions are rapidly entering the power grid to meet ambitious clean energy goals. The electric vehicle (EV) market is booming, wind power is moving offshore, and even tried-and-true solar panel technology is being updated and adapted to meet growing energy needs. These renewable resources are transforming the grid and putting enormous pressure on infrastructure and capabilities. 

Black & Veatch, a global infrastructure leader, has developed Canada's first fully operational community smart grid system using geospatial technology, prediction capabilities, and widespread data integration to improve grid safety and resilience. The system can also reduce carbon emissions.


Smart grid interface for Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.

Smart grid interface for Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. Image used courtesy of PUC Distribution


Infrastructure Challenges and New Data Demands 

The aging power grid faces multiple challenges. Most transmission lines were built in the mid-20th century, and this equipment has an approximately 50-year lifespan. The need for upgrades, maintenance, and efficient grid repair is critical. 

The California Independent System Operator has recommended spending $9.6 billion on 46 transmission line projects across the state to support the load associated with renewable energy. But those projects won’t even touch the replacement and maintenance needed for aging transmission lines, circuit breakers, and other critical infrastructure that must be up to date to prevent catastrophic grid failures

Other challenges are the demand for renewable energy and carbon emissions goals. Princeton University researchers estimated that 80% of the emissions reductions achieved by the Inflation Reduction Act will be completely lost without transmission expansion and grid updates.

In addition to clean energy tech, data centers, and artificial intelligence are creating significant power demands. Experts at the International Energy Agency project that by 2026, data centers will consume 6% of the total electricity in the United States. 


Smart Grids, Geospatial Tech, and Minimizing Human Error

Installing smart grids will be critical to meeting the infrastructure challenges and data-driven power demands. Black & Veatch’s smart grid supports 35,000 customers in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. In addition to enhancing grid resilience and passing savings on to customers, the grid is reducing carbon emissions by 2,804 tons of carbon dioxide. 

Utilizing geospatial technology and data integration, Black & Veatch's comprehensive program management and execution tool suite offers a unified platform to monitor a project's design and performance over time. This system enhances planning and forecasting through advanced dimensional design and mapping. Data integration and analytics boost scheduling, decision-making, and issue resolution efficiency.


Video used courtesy of PUC Distribution


Removing maintenance demands from human decision-making and monitoring is a critical way this tech can improve safety and protect the grid’s efficiency. Optical sensors connected to a smart grid can provide real-time monitoring and data prediction and prevent failures. These sensors can monitor temperatures indicating system stress, detect deformation on system components like power lines, and protect electrical equipment in substations. When connected to a smart grid, preventative maintenance becomes the standard rather than reactive repair, which tends to wait for failures to replace and update system components. 

Black & Veatch’s smart grid is a complex system that combines four domains and utilizes smart applications and data analytics across all its components. 


Smart grid system components.

Smart grid system components. Image used courtesy of Black & Veatch 


Other companies and researchers are testing and implementing Black & Veatch’s geospatial tech because it can reduce outage duration, improve the efficiency of asset updates, and streamline repairs to enhance predictive maintenance strategies. Because location and geography are central to utility grids’ operating parameters, more than 90% of utility enterprises have a context of location associated with them. Incorporating geospatial data into smart grid tech will be critical for simplifying complex and unique information at a speed far beyond human capacities.

Black & Veatch’s smart grid tools were designed for PUC Distribution Inc., the power utility in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. The effort received the Electricity Distribution Association’s Innovation Excellence Award. 

Canada’s new smart grid is only the first of what will surely be many utility grid advancements to make smart technology a mainstay.