Utilities failing to make use of smart grid big data

Utilities failing to make use of smart grid big data

A new survey commissioned by Oracle Utilities confirms what we've all been thinking about the daily data deluge now engulfing utilities.

Dig a little deeper, however, and you'll discover some fresh insights. Many utilities are overlooking the most important way to use their data. Others have failed to take the foundational steps needed for long-term success.

Oracle's "Big Data, Bigger Opportunity" study surveyed executives at North American utilities with smart meters. It confirmed several trends we've been hearing about for the past year:

  • Data volumes are increasing dramatically
  • Utilities are making lots of investments into their information infrastructure
  • Utilities are beginning to use that data for decision support

To get beyond these obvious points, I sat down with Brad Williams, vice president of product strategy for Oracle Utilities. He cites three areas where analytics can make a big difference: operational performance, asset performance and customer performance.

Williams says the third area is most often overlooked. He defines it as using data to deliver value directly to customers. One example: providing customized recommendations on how to reduce their bills.

He describes several other ways utilities are using analytics to "gain trust with customers and better meet their mandates." For instance, some utilities are crunching the data to help them keep their infrastructure up to speed – for instance, staying a step ahead of electric vehicle and rooftop solar. Others are using it to design new and more effective incentive rate structures.

Williams is adamant that analytics is so important it will determine whether or not a utility succeeds in the next era. He also believes it will "create a new breed of utility worker I call a data scientist." This new form of analyst will understand both Big Data and the peculiarities of utilities.

Indeed, the utilities surveyed reported "lack of talent" as the biggest thing holding them back. So how do you find such people? If you hire from outside the industry, Williams recommends you assign the new person a "tour of duty" in operations. If you want to grow them internally, companies such as Oracle provide analytics training as well as tools preconfigured for common utility needs.

Two survey results surprised Williams. First, only 46% of utilities have a meter data management system (MDMS) in place, something he considers "essential." Second, he was surprised to learn how many utilities are still keeping their information in silos. At 60% of the surveyed utilities, the meter data is owned by the metering department. Although only 29% gave ownership to the T&D operation, that is where Williams thinks the biggest opportunities lie.

Oracle's position is that smart meter data should be considered enterprise-level data -- and that demands that utilities have an enterprise data strategy. The company cited four key takeaways:

  • Use analytics for operational efficiencies
  • Tackle ownership issues (treat data as an enterprise resource)
  • Consider an MDMS since utilities with meter data management can better handle the data deluge
  • Remember the customer (in addition to streamlining business, work to improve the customer experience)

Editor's Note: This story is republished with permission from SmartGridNews.com.