No time to think: How utilities are handling the deluge of grid data
The growth in smart grid tech is outpacing utility ability to analyze its data, but new software could offer hope
As utility systems modernize, adding more distributed technologies and smart capabilities, many power providers are finding themselves outpaced by the sheer amount of new information the new grids present.
Utilities used to read customer meters 12 times a year. Now advanced meter infrastructure (AMI) often reports every 15 minutes. That’s thousands of times more information, and it is just a small part of what is coming at electric utilities. There are also data about billing and workforce management, operations and maintenance, and system planning — not to mention the information generated by SCADA systems and sensors used across the transmission and distribution grids.
The data deluge is a trend that affects all utilities, regardless of size or business model. In a quick check with investor-owned utilities, co-ops and municipal providers across multiple regions, all affirmed that the increase in data — and the opportunities it presents — are significant.
“TVA is facing both an increase in the volume of, and appetite for, data,” said Scott Brooks, a spokesperson for the Tennessee Valley Authority, a federally-run utility.
“The increase is an order of magnitude,” echoed Tracy Warren, spokesperson at the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the co-op trade group. “Co-ops have been actively engaged in finding ways to manage the onslaught.”
And while many utility managers already feel inundated, there’s likely greater volumes to come.
Smart meters and advanced sensing data “will be critical as the energy industry transforms to a more customer-centric environment,” said National Grid Spokesperson Paula Haschig.
Even Omaha Public Power District, a small muni adding DERs at a modest rate, is seeing its data grow “at an ever-quickening pace,” according to spokesperson Jodi Baker.
Figuring out how to manage those data could hold the key to new revenue streams and improved grid operation, if utilities can find software tools to integrate multiple grid technologies and handle ever-escalating quantities of information. Recent advances in predictive technology and cloud computing may offer a way forward.
The rise of utility analytics
As the grid becomes more digitized, analytics is the buzzword passing many lips in the power sector.
“Utilities are struggling to cope with the growth of data and they have three general approaches,” said Research Analyst Lauren Callaway, lead author of Navigant Research’s just-released “Utility Analytics.”
Most often, “they don’t know what to do with it so it sits largely unused,” she said. Or “they start analyzing it and create more of a mess than there was to begin with.” For the few that take on analytics, she said, “it can work out well or poorly.”
Callaway’s point is verified by a survey from the Utility Analytics Institute, which recently reported that over half of utilities have “very limited use” for the data they are collecting, almost 40% are “trying to figure out what to do with it,” and only 5% to 10% have “standardized data analytics tools and processes.”
Globally, revenue for analytics is forecast to grow from 2016’s $944.8 million to over $3.6 billion in 2025, a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 15.9%, according to Navigant. In North America, revenue is expected to grow from $392.3 million in 2016 Read full article at Utility Diveto nearly $1.2 billion in 2025, a CAGR of 13.2%.
But even the categories into which Big Data can be segmented for analysis are not yet standardized.
“Analytics at utilities is a very wide area and it is hard to capture the many different classes and types,” Callaway said.
For the full range of utility analytics, many of which go beyond smart meter data, Navigant uses four categories: “grid operations analytics, asset optimization analytics, demand-side management analytics, and customer operations analytics.”
Approaches are so wide-ranging that “the only must-have tool is a computer,” Callaway said. “And the only must-have staff is someone who knows how to use the analytics program.”
Analyzing information, of course, did not start with computers, but “today’s utility is faced with a confluence of factors that makes the need more urgent and the task more complicated,” Navigant reports.
“No utility does nothing with their smart meter data,” Callaway said. But using it for billing or outage management doesn’t get at the value that could come from using it for utility-wide analysis. “It is more common that they don’t have the vision to see the potential.”
Failing to see the implications of data that remain siloed within utility departments can cause inefficiencies and lead to bad decisions based on inadequate information, the paper adds.