How the Rise in Big Data Impacts Utility IT Departments

With the rise in smart grid deployments, utilities are looking to their IT departments for solutions that will result in the effective management of data.
Published: Wed 17 Oct 2012

Smart grid deployments are on the increase, resulting in a huge surge in data. Utilities now have access to information that they have never had before which can optimize business operations, create a more reliable service and strengthen customer relations. The act of accessing, analyzing, managing and delivering this data is proving to be a mammoth task, writes Oracle. For this reason, utilities are investing heavily in IT services, reports Computer Weekly. Utilities in Western Europe alone will spend US$6.5bn on IT services in 2012. Gaia Gallotti, senior research analyst at IDC Energy Insights, explains that the need to cut costs and achieve operational excellence in the electricity sector, together with the need to comply with energy policies and regulation, will continue to drive utilities' investment in Information and Communications Technology.

Oracle’s “The Big Data, Bigger Opportunities” report examines how utilities utilize the data, generated from smart grid deployments. Oracle surveyed 151 North American senior-level executives at utilities with smart meter programs in place. The company queried their views on the business impact of “big data,” preparedness to handle data increases, and plans to elicit optimal business value from the data.  A brief summary of the survey’s findings are listed as follows:

  • Utilities, with smart meter programs in place, report that they are “somewhat prepared”to manage “big data”. Most rated themselves a 6.7 on a scale of 1 to 10.
  • Approximately 45% of utilities struggle to relay information to business managers efficiently and 50% fail to transmit useful      information to their customers.
  • Utilities are collecting critical information, such as outage (78%) and voltage data (73%), and many are using the data tosupport business decisions, improve service reliability and customer satisfaction.
  • Utilities want to improve their ability to translate information into actionable intelligence and leverage data for strategic      decision-making. About 64% of these utilities report that this is one of their top three priorities.
  • Meter Data Management (MDM) systems may provide help with 70% of those with an MDM system in place saying they are prepared to successfully manage the data influx versus just 51% of those without.

The implementation of the right big data technologies can help enhance the overall running of the power grid. The causes of power outages may vary but big data technology can help to intercept them, explains Information Week. 

Bert Taube, director of business development for Versant, a data management software company, says that the complexity of juggling a wide variety of data sources, many of which need to be processed and analyzed very quickly, is very common amongst many energy utilities. Taube explains that a data measurement and analytics system will allow utilities to process information in real time, allowing utilities to take the appropriate steps to avoid power shortages.

Taube points out that the 2003 North American blackout was caused by several preventable factors, including miscommunication and a lack of coordination and automation. He explains that there wasn't a centralized way of coordinating things. He adds, “On top of that, a number of different systems failed. And when systems fail, and they fail together, a lot of bad things happen at the same time."  Taube explains that some utilities are innovative, whilst others are not. He explains, “The innovative utilities realize there's a paradigm shift toward using a model-based (simulator) approach to deal with the grid issue. They realize this will give them a big increase in stability and dynamic deployment."

Roberta Bigliani, head of IDC Energy Insights for Europe, says that utilities are simply gathering and storing data instead of utilizing it effectively. Data can help detect fraud, predict maintenance requirements and eventually lead to smart grids which respond intelligently to variations in supply and demand. Bigliani points out that for this to occur; data must be “validated and translated into a metadata model, creating something that is usable by multiple applications."  Bigliani adds: “IT people need to work with the line of business to define a master data sort of approach and try to create a layer where all the data coming from meters or operational systems, are transformed into pieces of data that different applications can call."

Without the right technology, “big data” cannot be used effectively. It is therefore essential that utilities invest the appropriate time and finance in order to maximize the benefits of the incoming data. 

Sources

Engerati Big Report - ICT and Data Management

Computer Weekly-Big Data: Utilities rise to the smart meter challenge

Computer Weekly-Regulation and government policy drive utilities IT spend

Gigaom-The rent is too damn high, but big data means the power bill isn’t

Information Week-How Big Data Can Help Utilities Avoid Blackouts       
Microscope-Big data management is big business for resellers with the right expertise

Oracle-Big Data, Bigger Opportunities: Plans and Preparedness for the Data Deluge

TechRepublic-Build your Big Data strategy on what tomorrow will look like