Anatomy of a Utility Network

May 14, 2019 — Josh King

One of the great things about the Utility Network is how configurable it is.  In fact, you can create your own Utility Network from scratch if you’re ambitious enough.  Esri provides out of the box networks that are already defined for you in the form of Asset Packages.  Asset Package functionality is exposed through Geoprocessing Tools in ArcGIS Pro.

If you browse to you can see what configurations are available that are already configured by Esri.

As you can see, a utility network is flexible enough to be configured to behave how you’d like.  In this case Esri has provided a utility network configuration to behave like an electric distribution network.  As of April 2019, the pre-built configurations available from Esri include:

  • Electric Combined (Distribution and Transmission)
  • Gas Distribution
  • Water Distribution
  • Storm Water
  • Sewer

In order to install each of these in your ArcGIS Pro environment and update the Geodatabase with the model, there’s instructions for each of these on the Esri website.

Knowing that the utility network is configurable to operate how you need it to based on your operational needs, let’s take a deep dive into the anatomy of what makes up the utility network.

The utility network itself is the foundation and then supports a Structure Network and a Domain Network.  The commonality between the 2 types of networks are feature classes, assets groups and asset types.  First, I’ll go over structure networks and the feature classes available.

Structure Networks

Resources such as water, gas or electricity do not flow though structure networks.  They are supporting structures such as a pole, manhole or trench.  There are 3 different types of feature classes in a structure network.  The following examples assume we are operating in a utility network configured for electric distribution.

  • Structure Junctions
    • Point features that support network devices. Examples include a cabinet, vault or switchgear.
  • Structure Lines
    • Linear features that contain domain network line features. Examples include a duct, trench or aerial support.
  • Structure Boundary
    • Polygon features that outline sizable collections of domain network features. Examples include cabinet, substation or vault boundaries.

An attachment feature can only be connected to one structure, but a structure can have multiple structural attachments, such as a pole with multiple transformers.  Being able to model structures with connections to domain devices allows an end user to easily identify which structures, such as a manhole, contain a device.  Operators can then quickly identify how to access the device in critical situations.

A visual example in ArcGIS Pro with a street light and a pole.  By selecting the feature we can see the attributes of the street light and see that it’s an attachment.  I’ve never seen a street light laying on the ground, but good to know regardless.

An easy way to view the structural connection, which in this case is a pole, is to use the View Association Mode tool in the Utility Network Data toolbar.  After selecting the View option a dashed line is drawn on the map to show the structural relationship.

Domain Networks   

Within your geodatabase, a utility network can have one to many different domain networks.  Domain networks will differ based on the type of network your building.  If you’re building an electrical network versus a water distribution network, those will be separate domains.  A domain network can be created with ArcGIS Pro using the Add Domain Network geoprocessing tool, or through a python script.  When building a Domain Network ideally you should begin with the industry-standard configuration, then customize it to fit your organization’s goals as needed.

Example of adding a domain network through the geoprocessing tools with ArcGIS Pro.

After the domain network is created the properties are visible from the network properties within the utility network.

It’s worth noting the tier definition, which is Partitioned.  A domain network supports partitioned or hierarchical.

Partitioned Tier Definition:

  • Designed for wired networks
  • Each tier is independent of each other within the domain network
  • Features will only participate in one subnetwork

An electrical network will be defined as a partitioned network where each tier is separate.  Tiers for different voltages are independent of each other.

Hierarchical Tier Definition:

  • Designed for pressure networks
  • Each tier is dependent on all subsequent tiers within the domain network
  • Features participate within each subnetwork and higher tier

The following diagram displays how the utility network model relationships are built:


The last piece in the tree of utility network are subnetworks.  There can be multiple subnetworks defined per tier and are defined by subnetwork controllers. The basic workflow for adding a subnetwork controller:

Add assembly -> Connect lines -> Configure subnetwork controller -> Update subnetworks

In order to create subnetwork controller the asset must be assigned the subnetwork controller network category.  Network categories can be defined through the Set Network Category geoprocessing tool.

The following displays the properties of electric distribution devices.  Transformers and Voltage Regulator are the asset group followed by the asset type.  Some types have been defined as being able to be a Subnetwork Controller.  So for instance if you model an Overhead Three Phase Transformer assembly, you can then define that as a Subnetwork Controller as part of the network topology.  This is done with the Modify Subnetwork Controller Geoprocessing tool.

The utility network model at a high level is straight forward due to its generic nature.  Within each part of the model it becomes much more nuanced and can become overwhelming.  Understanding how the utility network starts at the high level, and then having a firm understanding of those concepts will allow you to take a deep dive into the anatomy of the utility network.

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