Digital Transformation for District Energy with GIS

02-26-2021 02:58 PM
Esri Regular Contributor
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By Tom DeWitte and Tom Coolidge

Rethinking the role of District Heating and Cooling in the future’s more climate-sensitive energy mix is leading many District Heating and Cooling organizations to rethink how they best conduct their business.

As part of this rethinking, an effort is underway at many District Heating and District Cooling organizations to adopt new processes or update and improve existing processes.  Ultimately, this is to improve the efficiency of the operation and maintenance of the organization. A term that is often used to name this effort is Digital Transformation.  At the root of this Digital Transformation is the need to collect, manage, and disseminate information about the pipe network in a more efficient manner than possible with paper or CAD files. This is where Geographical Information Systems (GIS) often enters the conversation. But why?  What is it about GIS that makes it central to Digital Transformation?

Digital Transformation with GIS

Many of the processes a District Heating or District Cooling organization will target for improvement are associated around enabling organization staff to answer the question of “Where.” 

-Where are the buried valves I need to inspect located?

-Where is the pipe buried so I can mark its location to avoid excavation damage?

-Where have leaks occurred?

-Where are the customers who will be impacted by an outage event?

-Where are potential new customers near the existing pipe network?

These are a few of the everyday questions that processes have been constructed to help organization staff address.  These questions require an understanding of location of the assets as well as their position within the pipe network.  Being a technology that provides this capability is a part of the reason why GIS is part of the digital transformation solution.  The other part of the reason is its ability to be a singular system to provide asset management, mapping, mobile data collection, and analytical tools. 


It is this quadruple capability that provides the efficiency District Heating and District Cooling organizations are looking to accomplish with their Digital Transformation initiatives. 

Asset Management with GIS

Most asset management solutions on the market today are simply an inventory of the assets deployed to the field and record keeping of the operation and maintenance activities performed on those assets. Today’s GIS systems offer all those capabilities, and more. The more is the inclusion of the spatial representation of the asset (valves, pipes, pumps, heat exchangers, etc).


Current generation GIS systems add more value to asset management by leveraging the spatial representation of the assets to create a digital representation of how these assets work together as part of a pipe network. This topological understanding of the pipe network is what allows current generation GIS systems to model the flow of the thermal energy, flow of the water, and perform isolation traces for outage events.


This ability transforms the traditional asset management solution into a tool for understanding how the pipe network operates.

Mapping with GIS

Mapping of pipe systems has literally been around as long as humans have been building pipe networks. Initially the mapping of the pipe system was a static snapshot preserved on linen, paper, vellum, and eventually CAD. These legacy systems would divide a pipe system into sheets or tiles. Each sheet or tile representing a portion of the pipe system.


A modern GIS solution for District Heating and District Cooling provides a seamless interactive digital representation of the pipe network.


One that allows office and mobile staff to interactively pan and zoom across the seamless display of the entire pipe network.  This information is transmitted live to the organization’s users, ensuring that the information being presented is always the most current.

Mobile Data Collection with GIS

Digital Transformation for many means replacing paper data capture with digital data capture tools. This is an easy-to-measure efficiency gain as it typically eliminates the office task of transposing the field completed paper forms into a digital repository.

Modern GIS systems provide this capability as part of their solution. The best of class GIS systems can leverage mobile devices such as smartphones and digital tablets.


These solutions leverage the smart devices native tools such as GPS and camera. This allows the field technician to see on an interactive map where they are located in reference to the buried pipe system, and to capture photos as part of the inspection record.


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This digitally captured data streams back to the GIS data repository.  No office transposing or manipulation is required.

Understanding the Pipe Network with GIS

Digital Transformation also means enabling the pipe asset data to be natively utilized by engineers and planners for analysis.  Modern GIS systems and their understanding of location provide planners and engineers with tools to model:

-how the pipe system transports energy,

-how the pipe network can impact the adjacent community and environment,

-how the adjacent environment and community can impact the pipe network.


GIS is Transformational

Implementing a modern GIS is transformational to a District Heating or District Cooling organization. It is the four in one solution to enable efficiencies across the entire organization. If you are planning a Digital Transformation at your organization a GIS is the foundation from which to build upon.

PLEASE NOTE: The postings on this site are our own and don’t necessarily represent Esri’s position, strategies, or opinions.


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Technical Lead for Natural Gas Industry at Esri