Ergon to host geo data in Google Cloud

Vegetation management project worth $44 million in savings over five years

Queensland energy utility, Ergon Energy, will move future geospatial data into a Google-hosted public Cloud platform from August this year, a move expected to save more than $44 million over five years.

The government-owned electricity distributor was revealed as one of two organisations to jump onto Google’s new Earth Builder project announced Thursday. The Cloud-based service allows third parties to store and serve geospatial data to end-users through existing tools, including Google Maps and Earth.

The feature is expected to differ from the enterprise edition of Google Earth, launched in 2009, by offering a platform on which to offload an organisation’s entire geographical datasets with on-demand scaling of the platform to meet traffic spikes.

Ergon Energy has flagged use of the platform as a hosted data hub for all asset and disaster management data captured under the forthcoming Remote Observation Automated Modelling Economic Situation (ROAMES), a collaboration between the utility, Google, the Queensland University of Technology, Seabird Aviation as well as the Cooperative Research Centre for Spatial information.

Trials for the project, which was first announced last year, were scheduled to begin in May this year, with deployment and data capture using the tool scheduled for August.

Data will be captured by light aircraft, being built in Hervey Bay by the Australian Research Centre for Aerospace Automation, equipped with laser scanners and digital cameras to provide information on the utility’s base of 150,000 kilometres of power lines.

All geospatial data will be hosted by Google, virtualised and made available through the Earth Builder tool to Ergon staff.

"It's both challenging and expensive to build, maintain and operate a large geographically dispersed network,” state energy minister, Stephen Robertson, said in a statement.

Ergon Energy chief executive, Ian McLeod, estimated the ROAMES project would save more than $44 million dollars over five years by assessing vegetation’s impact on the electricity grid.

"Future applications of these combined technologies are expected - we aim to be able to use simulations to assist in every area of planning and response, whether for a natural disaster or to forecast growth in particular areas,” he said.

The US military’s National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) became the first to use the Earth Builder project as an extension of its existing Earth Enterprise deployment, to map and gauge national security, environmental monitoring and disaster response and preparedness efforts.

Use of geospatial data by law enforcement authorities and wider civic departments has also been pushed by the real-world NCIS, with computer scientist Kyle Caston pointing to the greater need for public access to government data.

Pricing for the service is yet to be announced, but further details are expected before the service becomes available for the greater public in the third quarter of this year.

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