Group 27 DTP: Augmented Reality at a Grid Manager


Dear readers,

Our Digital Transformation Project revolved around the company Alliander and its subsidiary Liander, a Dutch electrical grid manager. Let us have a look at the company and its environment first. Alliander is an electrical grid company. The company is formed by three sub companies: Liander, Endinet and Liandon. Together they are responsible for maintenance, renewal, expansion and modification of the energy transmission network. The total net revenue and profits after tax of the conglomerate for 2013 is respectively 1.744 million Euros and 288 million Euros. Liander, one of the daughter firms of Alliander, is responsible for the management of electricity and gas grids in its service area. Its service area consists of the provinces Gelderland, Noord-Holland, Flevoland and big parts of Friesland and Zuid-Holland. Liander takes care of the construction, maintenance and renewal of the electricity and gas grids. They handle the transport of electricity and gas to respectively 2,9 million and 2,1 million households, companies and institutions via these grids.

Liander and the industry are facing several problems. The environment, in which utility providing companies like Liander operate, is uncertain. The consumers’ energy needs have been shifting and they are producing local energy through windmills and solar panels nowadays. The current state of the energy-delivering infrastructure requires high capital investments but the margins are low and unpredictable which discourages investors to invest in this market. Environmental concerns, CO2 output, the smart grid, ageing workforce, security, the financial crisis fallout, power demands that increase in the cities and decrease in the rural areas all contribute to making this industry unpredictable. Yet, the delivery of electricity is vital to our everyday continuity.

Lianders current IT application is a smart meter for customers. The smart meter is a digital energy meter, which is automatically registered for electricity and gas usage. The smart meter is a recent, innovative tool that supports societal, technical and ecological developments and keeps energy utility affordable to all consumers. The smart meter is basically a digital energy meter, which automatically registers the electricity and gas usage of an individual consumer. The main benefit of this is that consumers gain more insight in their energy use and are able to reduce energy consumption.

However, in order to transform the way the company operates, we propose that Liander introduces an augmented reality head mounted display for its groundwork activities to help the construction workers locate the energy infrastructure that lies underground. This will help the company to prevent accidental damage to the infrastructure, which will result in a higher reliability of energy supply and a higher consumer satisfaction. Liander has an average annual expenditure of €15 million because of these accidents and 19% of the energy downtime in Liander’s service area was caused by construction work. This will be reduced significantly by our proposed augmented reality system.

Augmented Reality is a technology that superimposes a computer-generated image on a user’s view of the real world, thus providing a composite view. It integrates digital information with live video of the user’s environment in real time. Real-world environment elements are augmented by a computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data. The best examples, through which augmented reality can be manifested, are devices such as smartphones, tablets and Head-Mounted Displays.

When there is less damage done to the infrastructure, there will be less time required repairing defects, which ultimately results in less downtime and power outages of the energy grid. This is in line with Liander’s goal to reduce downtimes as much as possible to guarantee quality service to the customers, which is one of Lianders main priorities. Also, when mechanics and construction workers are equipped with and using devices that support the application, they can work more precisely and faster. They will know where the electricity cables and gas pipes are located, which will save time when digging. This makes their operations more efficient. The AR system is also something that falls neatly in the same category as their existing IT based solution of the smart meter.

In order to successfully develop this application we recommend that Liander focuses on the following subjects to increase the chances that the application will become a success and mitigate the risk.
• Involve every possible stakeholder and incorporate his or her needs.
• Database completeness and a centralized database: It is crucial the database contains every piece of information available on the current state of the different underground infrastructures and not only the information about Liander’s energy infrastructure. A centralized database is more flexible and enables quicker data exchange trough updates and prevents multiple versions that could exist with decentralized databases.
• Communication: Thorough internal and external communication about the project will create the right expectations about the capabilities of the system and what everyone requires. This will increase commitment on all levels.
• Training: It is crucial that ground workers and subcontractors are trained and instructed to use the new system. Their input and feedback is vital in creating a value adding system.
• Security: The centralized database has to be secure to avoid malpractice and abuse of the information. Copperthiefs, terrorists and other people that do not have the right intentions should not be able to access this information.

If Liander takes these conclusions as a serious guideline, the chances of success for this project will be highest. Changing old routines and working styles is difficult in any large and well-established workforce and there will be inevitably some resistance by the workers. The key point here is to communicate the benefits and reduce their uncertainty. It should be clear to them that this option helps them complete their work faster and does not increase their workload or responsibilities.

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