The transmission and distribution of power from generation to customer requires a jigsaw puzzle of physical assets. Keeping track of these assets and the data related to each is increasingly challenging, especially for a utility with hundreds of substations and thousands of miles of lines.

Continuous improvement of the management and organization of a utility’s assets and data has long been the goal of grid professionals. Much of the existing power infrastructure development happened during the 1950s and '60s, creating a nearly 60-year period of documentation degradation and storage technologies. In that time, misplaced or damaged documents have made accurate system data difficult to come by, causing many utilities to rely on the data and information stored within its employees’ memories. As the employees retire, that information goes with them.

With today’s availability of more effective and interconnected technology, owners and operators can efficiently organize and capture data on a large scale. Digitizing existing documents and collecting new data — using LiDAR scanners, drones, photogrammetry, mobile devices and equipment sensors — provide all the digital puzzle pieces. Sifting through gigabytes of data and adding asset tags makes the data searchable and more quickly accessible to planners, engineers and a much broader group of utility employees.

These new technologies can be deployed to verify and update the as-built conditions with the goal of building an accurate 3-D model of the site or facility. The resulting model, as well as the linking of asset information, builds upon the utility’s reliability, creating a dataset of asset history, current conditions and required maintenance that can be analyzed and used for making better decisions.

For example, instead of enduring an extended outage due to the failure of a remote, unknown piece of equipment without notice — which must be located, assessed and fixed to restore power — a utility will be warned before a failure ever happens. By combining the asset dataset with a preventive maintenance algorithm and the asset model, owners can isolate equipment based on history, condition and maintenance log to perform preventive maintenance or replacement in a planned and controlled manner. This implementation of asset management systems prevents failures and saves the utility time while supporting one of the power grid’s main purposes: bringing reliable power to customers.

Additionally, the 3-D model can be tied to construction and site training to better prepare workers for on-site activities. Using virtual and augmented reality, the model of the site can be integrated with the designs to simulate scenarios and allow conflicts or hazards to be caught before field activities start, leading to increased safety and fewer construction changes.

Although the technology needed to perform these types of data collection is new, the time to utilize it is now. The development and implementation of this technology to assist in smarter grid planning, design and operation will pave the way for improved safety, reliability and affordability of the grid and will cater to younger staff and more integrated data usage. Asset management technology and models are now being used to bring all the pieces together, making it easier to locate the pieces of the puzzle and put them in the right place.