The Data That Powers Your Cooperative

From outage locations to equipment age, the geographic information system stores crucial data that helps NLI staff and lineworkers keep power running smoothly to members and plan for the future. Photo by Kristin Mettke

You may have used the Northern Lights Inc. (NLI) outage map on the website when experiencing a power outage. Behind this map is a powerful, useful system and database called a geographic information system, or GIS. NLI uses the data and capabilities available in the GIS for many applications throughout multiple departments.

What is GIS? It is a database system that analyzes and displays geographically referenced information. The GIS references attributes from a database, with each object having a unique location. For example, think of one installed power pole. NLI has about 33,600 poles installed throughout our system. The GIS can track and map each pole’s physical location and attributes. If we want to see which poles are more than 30 years old and 35 feet or less in a particular area, we could use the GIS to run a report to show us where and what poles meet those criteria.

NLI uses the GIS to store and map data about our electric infrastructure, property information and equipment conditions. All wires, cables, transformers, fuses, switches, meters, equipment and characteristics of our power lines are mapped within our GIS. Also within the system is parcel information, district boundaries, wildfire information, joint use attachments from internet providers and other third-party data. This collection of information creates a powerful database that we use for several applications, the outage map being one of them.

The data populates on the map with geographical references, which helps our dispatch team know which members are experiencing an outage and the predicted areas impacted. This information helps dispatch coordinate lineworkers and switching to restore power as quickly as possible.

Our engineering staff uses the underlying GIS data to model the system and plan for future growth, system coordination and switching load. Every wire and cable provide an electrical model from a substation all the way to a member’s meter.

Lineworkers use a mobile application that has power line models and maps. This helps navigate lineworkers to outages and members’ properties for service calls. The line crew can also track and share notes at specific locations, substations and other inspection areas.

Our tree trimming crews use the GIS to enter information on their work and keep track of the areas they have visited. This data helps us plan where tree crews are most needed.

The member services team uses the GIS to access property information and meter locations, and to enter new service application data.

At our office, we have access to a number of dashboards that help provide up-to-date data summaries throughout our system. This data helps us prepare reports and make decisions on projects and maintenance.

The GIS and collected data are important tools at NLI. We have only just begun to utilize its capabilities and are continuing to add and use additional functionality of this powerful geospatial system.

Kristin MettkeNorthern Lights Engineering & Operations Manager Kristin Mettke is an electrical engineer and has worked in the electric utility industry most of her career.