While the full benefits of the smart grid will not be discovered until after the UK completes its rollout of smart meters, there is near-consensus among utilities that the technologies supporting the grid will materially improve how they operate. In fact, a recent report (Accenture, “Digitally Enabled Grid,” November 2013) reveals that more than two-thirds of utilities executives expect the advantages of the smart grid to actually exceed the industry’s original expectations.
The report also indicates that over 90 percent of energy providers rank data analytics solutions among the most important assets in preparing for the smart grid. However, only 60 percent actually plan to invest in these technologies. A recent study from Oracle echoes these findings, revealing that – to date – only 17 percent of utilities feel completely prepared to manage the impending influx of smart-grid data (Oracle, “Utilities and Data: Accelerating the Drive to Value,” June 2013).
For UK utilities, the need for effective analytics solutions has become even more pressing, with the National Audit Office (NAO) now urging the Treasury to assess the impact of infrastructure investment on consumer energy bills. Without the ability to effectively analyze smart-grid data, energy providers will struggle to achieve this.
Data will be the driving force behind a successful smart-grid rollout. Insight from data analytics will help utilities develop a better understanding of flow through their networks, and also boost engagement among today’s energy-conscious customers. Armed with this information, they will be primed to embrace the smart grid and, more importantly, the benefits it promises to deliver.
Getting customers more involved
Perhaps the most valuable innovation that big data analytics brings to utilities is a further-reaching view of their customer base. Analytics and data management technology will prove critical for providers looking to educate consumers and help them improve their consumption behavior.
Customers can benefit by gaining regular comprehensive insight into their energy use. With real-time consumption data displayed directly in their homes, consumers can immediately see how much energy – and therefore money – they are using and wasting by leaving their devices on stand-by mode or by not turning off lights in unoccupied rooms. These revelations will help motivate users to become more engaged with their providers and give them added incentive to change their energy-use behavior for the better.
Data analytics, as they apply to consumer behavior, will also help utilities improve their services to increase revenue opportunities. For example, by analyzing customer usage profiles, energy retailers can then target them with specific programs that align with their individual preferences, and therefore increase the likelihood that their customers will sign up for them.
In other words, by giving utilities a better understanding of customer segmentation, big data analytics will help them develop special training for their employees so they can better understand customer needs. As a result, utilities can reduce the number of customer queries they receive in their call centers, minimize overtime hours for employees, and boost customer satisfaction as response times are improved.
Smarter network management
Big data analytics will also be the backbone of network management for utilities. As dynamic, intricately connected webs, utility networks present unique engineering and safety challenges that make them particularly complex to manage. Often, troubleshooting work carried out at one point of the network may resolve a localized issue, but can redirect flow to other points on the grid and put enough pressure on these areas to cause new problems. This “moving fault” can become particularly dangerous during major weather events, which can often add to the already great pressure placed on energy networks.
The analysis of customer meters will help utilities take advantage of these widespread data points to gain a better vision of how voltage is being distributed throughout their networks. With this information, they can spot warning signs for problems before things go sour – for example, the “last gasp” given out by some smart meters shortly before dying. To give utility providers even more control over their networks, real-time data analysis applied to smart meters can be used to develop a live visualization of network status. Utilities can use this to spot outages more quickly and manage them more efficiently.
The next wave of utilities infrastructure
The global call for a new approach to energy distribution has been answered by the smart grid. When implemented, the technologies making up the next-generation grid will kick off the second wave of modern utilities infrastructure.
Following the rollout, data and data analytics will fundamentally transform the relationship between consumers and utility providers and drive more cost-effective, sustainable consumption. Once harnessed and converted to true business insights, the information at the heart of this revolution will shed new light on consumption and network operations, and give utilities the vision they need to spearhead the drive for more intelligent energy use.
This was a guest post and an exclusive from Mike Ballard, Oracle’s senior director of utilities strategy EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa).