by Brad Williams, Vice President Industry Strategy, Oracle
The rising tide of data sweeping the utilities sector offers big opportunities for operators, yet many are only just becoming aware of its potential.
The data is being generated on a number of different fronts. Rapid growth in the use of lowcost sensors is allowing operators to gather field information in ways never before possible. Measuring things such as movement, vibration, temperature and pressure, sensors are being placed on electricity pylons and wires as well as in pipelines and pumping stations. The result is massive amounts of data that can be collected, analysed and put to use.
Data is also being generated on the customer front. Smart meters, increasingly being installed in homes and office buildings, are generating streams of data about usage patterns. Meanwhile, devices such as photovoltaic cells and other renewable generators are adding to the flow. Include things such as automated thermostats and inhouse battery storage systems and the picture becomes even more interesting. The era of big data is poised to reshape the entire utilities sector.
The big data challenge
One of the largest challenges being created by this big data revolution stems from the sheer volumes involved. Once large sensor networks are in place, they generate and send data 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
One particular challenge this causes for operators results from the ageing SCADA systems that control many large power and water grids. Designed back in the 1960s, they remain highly reliable but are unable to cope with the large volumes of data that will be produced.
For this reason, operators will have to invest in alternative networking infrastructure to allow the data to be efficiently captured from throughout their infrastructure and securely stored. Once this has been done, analytical tools can then be put to work on it to extract useful information.
For those that take the steps necessary to harness big data, the potential benefits will be significant. Through sensor networks and smart meters, operators will be able to obtain levels of insight into their grids which have never before been possible. The condition of infrastructure can be monitored and any faults or issues instantly flagged.
Big data analysis can also allow more accurate planning for future infrastructure expansion. By being able to monitor demand patterns at a granular level, investments can be made exactly where they are required to ensure optimal network performance.
For electricity utilities, big data will allow better management of power generated by rooftop solar generators. The intermittent nature of their operation can cause issues in some instances, however, knowing what is being produced and where can help with overall grid management.
In the future it is likely that, rather than being suppliers and delivery arms of electricity, power companies will become more like trading platforms. They will model, monitor and manage the electricity generated by multiple small devices at the edge of their networks and provide the balance to those customers who require it – all in real time.
Meanwhile, water and gas utility companies can benefit from the ability to closely monitor the condition of their pipe networks, allowing any problems or breakages to be immediately identified and fixed. Consumption can also be accurately gauged in real time, allowing billing accuracy to be improved.
The opportunities offered by big data are huge but are only now starting to be understood by utility companies. Those that recognise the potential and take the required steps to take advantage of it will find themselves well ahead of the competition.
The big data revolution has only just begun.
Are you ready for the deluge of data headed your way?