For over twenty years, we have been providing electric utilities with both completed connectivity models, and the tools to create and maintain such models. The extent to which those tools are applied has been all across the board – sometimes mostly complete and accurate, sometimes not. We see the same thing in data that we migrate from other modeling solutions: connectivity modeling tends to range from just OK, to sparse, to non-existent. And, at the time, nobody thought it was a big deal. We are now seeing a new trend in customers coming to us asking for help in getting their connectivity correct and complete.

Even Smaller Utilities are Growing More Interested in Improving Connectivity Models

Until very recently, maintaining a solid connectivity model, while certainly a good “tight ship” practice, often provided limited return on effort at smaller utilities. Small distribution plants (and even some larger ones) did not have AMI or OMS software. They did not have IVR systems. They didn’t have plant analysis tools like WindMil. There was no pressure to implement smart-grid technology. Consulting engineers were still using calculators and spreadsheets to perform analytical studies. Simply put, fancy automation tools for all that stuff were for the big guys.

Today, the power of automation tools are well within the grasp of smaller utilities. There are many new affordable ways for smaller utilities to leverage existing model data for outage tracing, switch modeling, heat loss analysis, and load planning.

The number one barrier we see to implementing such applications is a lack of solid connectivity modeling.

Having a good connectivity model means capturing and storing the parent/child relationship of everything in the plant conducting electricity. For modern smart-grid, analysis, and outage tools, that means treating each span of wire, switch, and line protection device, from feeder bay to meter socket, as a discrete component of the connectivity model.

Earlier modeling and diagnostic approaches allowed for a very coarse-grained approach to connectivity where multiple plant elements would be assigned a “section number”. A section might be all of the 3-phase components between two gang switches, or even an entire feeder. It might be a single-phase tap going down a residential block. Any number of plant components could be lumped together based on the original planner’s model design; the approach made perfect sense in the days of paper maps and slide rules, but today, we can do a lot more with the fine-grained models made possible by modern software.

Fine-Grained Connectivity Greatly Improves Plant Analysis

Consider a case where a 3-phase feeder runs for 10 miles and is represented as a single section in the plant model. Further, there are dozens of single-phase taps branching out from that feeder. Consider further that the last mile of the feeder is old #4 solid copper. If we wanted to see what single phase taps ran downline from the copper spans, there would simply be no easy way to do it, because the entire 3-phase run is being treated as a single connectivity element. But by treating each span as a discrete element, we can trace downline from any point along the feeder to identify the child elements. That type of granularity is necessary for quality plant analysis.

Just as important as granularity is completeness. Analytic tools like WindMil work best when connectivity modeling includes every element from substation to meter. By making the connectivity model both fine-grained and complete, better quality decisions can be made regarding both current plant conditions and potential improvements , for instance, the ability to determine phase balancing, or to attribute demand load history to the right transformers, equipment, and substations.

Make 2017 the year you improve your connectivity model.

Every year, solid connectivity modeling becomes more a necessity than an option – and not just for leveraging technologies available today. The hottest trend in technology right now is IOT, the Internet of Things. IOT is all about things that talk to each other and to you: refrigerators that can order food, air conditioners that tell window blinds to open or close.

We can only begin to imagine the ways similar capabilities will affect electrical distribution utilities. By having a solid connectivity model for your utility, you’ll be ready for whatever new innovations arise.

For decades, TerraSpatial Technologies has helped utilities improve their connectivity model. Let us show you how we can help – schedule a demonstration today.