Smart Grid Technology Requires Skilled GIS Professionals to Manage an Energy-Efficient Future

by | Oct 22, 2013

AURORA, Colo., Oct. 21, 2013”Geographic information systems (GIS) play an important role to help the utilities industry manage the smart grid for an energy-smart future. And that means there is a growing need for professionals with a solid foundation in GIS technology to monitor electrical distribution systems, analyze power usage and plan future load growth to meet the changing needs of communities.

Professionals with an understanding of the spatial analysis and visualization aspects of GIS are capable of creating and improving smart grid implementation strategies, says Stephen McElroy, GIS program chair at American Sentinel University. The ability to organize data and to manage infrastructure assets within an enterprise GIS framework is a fundamental aspect of a well-conceived smart grid system.

Through the evolution of the smart grid, an information- and analytics-driven modern version of the more-than-a-century-old electrical grid, utility operators will need a GIS-based view in order to make smart decisions about making data be understood quickly and easily shared.

The ability to display infrastructure data on a map is much more meaningful than presenting it in spreadsheet format based on a list of addresses. A well-made map can be read and digested quickly by a variety of users such as utility managers, utility field crew members and the general public, says Dr. McElroy.

He notes that most utility companies have mobile-enabled web portals to alert customers about outages because they're a simple and effective way to disseminate information to a broad constituency in a timely manner.

Making the Smart Grid Smart

Dr. McElroy says that when an enterprise GIS system is integrated within an entire utility company, it allows a broad range of users to manage, share and utilize spatial data and other ancillary business information to quickly address a variety of business needs and respond digitally to customer's quickly changing electric demand. Enterprise GIS offers a single authoritative data source for tasks such as data creation, editing, visualization, analysis and output, adds Dr. McElroy.

With the expanding implementation of distributed generation (DG) powered by renewable sources, like solar panels on buildings, wind turbines, micro-geothermal or micro-hydroelectric plants run by consumers and businesses, the complexity of the smart grid grows.

Dr. McElroy says that power could come from anywhere (e.g., the roof of a large commercial building or backyard wind turbines), and be used anywhere (e.g., by a car plugged into a charging station) while the energy consumption is managed by the smart grid, which monitors in real-time all locations which consume that energy.

GIS uses location to collect and analyze all sorts of data and smart grid technology needs geospatial data for efficient operation at an affordable cost, he says.

Geotagging relevant data and combining it with real-time information from the grid itself would allow utility operators to better understand how and when people use power, detect inefficiencies in the system and design capacity and strategy to provide people with what they need while reducing waste and consequently, reducing the production of greenhouse gases.

Smart grids offer benefits to the vital use of power around the world “ and to the career prospects of those who understand GIS technology.

Given the consumers dependence on electricity to power personal devices and appliances, the future of the electricity generation appears solid, says McElroy.

Further developments in the application of the smart grid technology will require skilled GIS professionals to envision improvements in the intelligent management of energy by producers and consumers.

Learn more about American Sentinel University's GIS degree programs at

About American Sentinel University

American Sentinel University delivers the competitive advantages of accredited associate, bachelor’s and master’s online degree programs focused on the needs of high-growth sectors, including information technology, computer science, GIS masters programs, online GIS certificates, computer information systems and business intelligence degrees. The university is accredited by the Distance Education and Training Council (DETC), which is listed by the U.S. Department of Education as a nationally recognized accrediting agency and is a recognized member of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.


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