Smart grid data and its impact on utilities

Co-CEO, V3 Broadsuite

The utility industry is going through a period of extreme disruption; everything about the way companies do business is changing. Smart grid data and efficient data management provide utilities a wealth of information, opportunities and challenges.

An enormous amount of complex data is processed and managed by smart grids every month. Customers of Braintree Electric Light Department, for example, now have advanced metering systems that log data every 15 minutes in real time. The utility company provides a reduced amount of this data to customers through a Web portal, allowing customers to access their own data, recorded hourly, in real time, according to a report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. This amounts to about 720 data points accessible to each customer each month, and about 2,880 data points recorded per customer per month.

Smart grid metrics mean opportunities

Smart grids promote energy efficiency and improved performance. They can also help motivate and educate consumers. As more people adopt smart meters, utilities will find many opportunities through the data these devices collect. Power companies can use this information to:

  • Forecast energy demand.
  • Educate consumers in an effort to affect their usage patterns.
  • Prevent power outages.
  • Optimize unit commitment.
  • Reduce the need to build new power plants.

While there are huge upsides for utilities related to the wealth of data available, there are still things to consider, such as available metrics and how to make the most of the information.

What metrics matter the most?

It's easy to get lost in a deluge of data. Fortunately, you can navigate information overload by knowing what's important. Some of the essential metrics to track are:

  • Distribution monitoring. This is the process of identifying abnormal conditions that may lead to disruptions, such as power outages. One key metric here is the amount of meter malfunctions resulting from disruption. Here, integration of smart meter and localized weather data could be key. According to the U.S. Department of Energy's 2014 Smart Grid System Report, a modernized grid allowed the city of Chattanooga to instantly restore power to half of its affected residents after a severe windstorm. They went from 80,000 without power to less than 40,000 within two seconds.
  • Resource allocation. Weather forecasting allows utilities to choose which energy sources will be most efficient. Wind and solar power are heavily weather dependent, so if the coming days or weeks will have little sun, this type of energy should be spared. It's also possible to use smart grid data to predict peak load times and reduce demand.
  • Energy consumption. Accurate forecasting is important when it comes to buying, selling and trading energy. Smart power meters help utilities track peak demand periods — down to the month, week, day and even hour — and compare that to the supply and demand cycles in wholesale energy markets.
  • Consumer involvement. How many consumers are actively participating in energy efficiency initiatives? By knowing how many homes installed smart thermostat control systems, utilities can develop educational tools and provide motivation to improve energy usage habits. In fact, the U.S. Department of Energy's report states that an AMI can reduce peak-time demand by more than 30 percent. utilities can leverage big data

As data emerges as a key competitive advantage, utility companies must use it strategically. Earlier this year, EnergyBiz showcased how four utility companies' strategies for making big data work for them.

  • Austin Energy is setting up a data warehouse that will serve as a single source of all data for the entire company. CIO Austin Claypool believes the single source will increase efficiency and speed up the analytics process.
  • Baltimore Gas & Electric is creating a hub and spoke model to expand the use of data and analytics while supporting current users.
  • Pacific Gas & Electric recently implemented AMI, and they've responded to the increase in data volume by creating an interval data analytics program. This program provides self-service access to PG&E analysts, allowing greater freedom for analysts to retrieve data sets with reduced time and effort.
  • CenterPoint Energy has taken a three-pronged approach to data by examining through the lens of management, governance and insight. Corporate Technology Officer Steve Pratt feels that it allows their data management to be conducted with greater efficiency and optimization.

There are many advantages that come from smart grid data, and much of this information can be analyzed and leveraged. The most important data for utilities depends on each individual organization's business goals and their strategic priorities. It also depends on internal capabilities and budget allocations. The best way to determine what to leverage is to lay out a strategic plan that makes sense to your organization and your unique needs.

See how IBM is helping utilities demonstrate potential benefits of applying near real-time analytics to smart grid operations. Find out more about these solutions today.