United Energy and Multinet Gas are among an increasing number of utilities making the most of big data to manage their electricity and gas assets. This ongoing process aims to utilise an ever-increasing amount of data to create smarter, more responsive and better managed networks, and to improve capital planning, business operations and customer service. Utility spoke to Andrew Steer, Network Control Centre Support Manager at United Energy, to learn more about how the organisation collects and manages data.

The Multinet Gas network covers 1,860 square km of the eastern and south-eastern suburbs of Melbourne, the Yarra Ranges and South Gippsland, while United Energy’s electricity distribution network covers 1,472 square km of south-east Melbourne and the Mornington Peninsula.

Data is collected across these networks at various points via a number of different technologies.

“Traditional SCADA technology provides extensive monitoring and control at the major asset level for both gas and electricity networks, and smart metering has been deployed to over 97 per cent of supply points in the electricity network. Limited monitoring is also deployed at the intermediate level between the high-voltage (HV) assets and the consumer,” said Andrew Steer.

“The traditional SCADA network uses a mix of intelligent end devices built into the network. The bulk of data capture is via devices at the HV zone substations. These monitor both analog data (such as network load, voltages, current flows, device temperature etc.) as well as digital state information (for instance, whether a device is on or off, or which switched state it is in). This data capture occurs via standard IP networks. The gas and electricity distribution networks also capture data from switchgear on pole tops or various gas distribution network locations via wireless techniques such as 3G and digital radio technologies. The smart metering network is mesh-radio based.”

All in all, this amounts to a large amount of data. While United Energy and Multinet Gas’s traditional SCADA networks capture a relatively small amount of data (around six gigabytes annually), the smart metering network takes readings every 30 minutes and captures considerably more data, approximately 2.5 terabytes annually.

Managing data to manage assets

In order to realise its potential benefits, utilities must be able to analyse all this data or use both in real-time and to observe longer term trends. Mr Steer said that the way the data is used by United Energy and Multinet Gas determines how it is managed.

“The utilisation of data drives how it is managed within the organisation. A common assumption is that data is simply stored and analysed ‘after the fact’ in big data processing applications, or that it is simply used for management reporting. While this is true in some cases, significant amounts of data within electricity and gas utilities are utilised for real-time processing and near real-time decision making.

“Our traditional SCADA networks have operated in real-time for more than 25 years, as a key element in network control. The SCADA applications and their associated data historians generate operational data views. These allow network management applications and control room users to make rapid network switching and load management decisions to maintain the supply of energy to customers and the integrity of the networks. This data processing is localised at the application level and leverages geospatial network data as the underlying reference model. The management of this reference model requires the use of quality change processes,” Mr Steer said.

The completion of the smart meter rollout in Victoria has allowed data to be used in new and innovative ways and enabled an increased focus on real-time network control.

“With the advent of smart meters in Victoria, the initial focus was to meet the collection, processing and data delivery market standards. Once again, the initial focus of the organisation was operational in nature, with the major focus being on the meter data management application as the data processing engine. Subsequently, the business leveraged the energy data available for the traditional network planning and analysis via a more central data store that combined the strengths of the SCADA data overlaid with the smart meter data – providing the basis for improved network planning and capital investment analysis.

“However, with the effective completion of the smart meter rollout in 2013/14, the business has focused its attention on leveraging data in near real-time for network control and operations – merging the available smart meter event data and SCADA network data into the network management applications, with a focus on improved decision making, more effective operations, and improved customer service. This journey is a work in progress within at the present time. Looking ahead, real-time decision making in smart networks will evolve towards increased ‘in-networks’ processing – altering the balance and processing requirements between what data and analytics processing is required in the central office, the control room and within the zone substation infrastructure.”

Getting the maximum value from big data is an ongoing process and its potential is by no means exhausted. Therefore, United Energy and Multinet Gas continues to develop its data management strategies.

“This task will be ongoing. Much of the real-time processing activity is centred on core in-network and network management applications with the ongoing evolution and inclusion of incremental analytics capabilities. The ongoing extraction of value from the accumulated data will require a key investment in traditional analytics by UE/MG in the next few years. In the interim UE/MG is focused on exploring the potential of the data to solve both traditional problems in new and novel ways as well as examining opportunities to meet emerging challenges via the use of data analytics. Of course the energy industry isn’t static, with new sector innovations a fact of everyday life, so UE/MG will continue with local sandpit analytics and its investment in big data engines as required.”

Mr Steer said that an integrated approach, where the employees analysing the data work closely with the business team, has been key to UE/MG’s successful data management strategy. Working closely with the vendors who provide the data management solutions is also important to get the most out of data.

“The UE/MG approach is to keep the data analysts close to the business and the emerging business opportunities, so they are working closely with the business teams identifying the opportunities. The industry solution vendor partners play their part by incorporating the necessary capabilities into their core solutions, and UE/MG proactively works with the vendor partners in this respect. In this way, the analysts continue to be placed at the forefront of problem-solving and are focused on exploring and proving out opportunities for subsequent business and vendor solution consolidation.”

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 The benefits of Big Data

The data collected and analysed by UE/MG is used in a variety of different ways, and at different stages, to improve the network.

“The obvious use of data in the traditional sense is for improved network planning. Whilst this benefit is less obvious to customers, it allows UE/MG to better target its use of capital investment to localised network trouble spots or to defer mainstream investment – ultimately keeping a lid on price increases.”

The data is also used to improve the organisation’s understanding of load across the network and for use in demand management.

“The combination of SCADA data with smart meter data overlaid on the geospatial network reference model provides substantial improvements in understanding load across the network. Last summer this was extended for use in operational network load management – where UE had visibility on consecutive 40+ degree days of network stress points and was able to better distribute customer load across our network to maintain supply. It also allowed us to work with our customers to minimise risks of network overload conditions.

“The smart metering voltage excursion data has been utilised to remediate areas of the network with power quality issues. Whilst increased penetration of solar impacts our ability to remediate in certain locations, the capability to analyse and display this data with visualisation tools has led to several programs of work to alter transformer tap settings, identify and repair network equipment causing impedance issues, insert voltage regulators in specific localities and identify some premises with neutral integrity (safety) issues.”

United Energy and Multinet Gas has also taken the opportunity to use enhancements in data to enable customers to become more aware of and involved in their own energy use.

“One of the first UE/MG initiatives with the advent of smart metering was to provide a simple to use EnergyEasy web portal to allow our network customers to view their energy use data.

“Numerous customers have told us that they’ve viewed their half-hourly data profiles and identified energy or appliance issues in the home and reduced their energy usage as a result. A common example is a customer seeing how much power is consumed with appliances on standby. This is most evident when a customer takes a weekend break from home but their household continues to consume significant quantities of power. Another example is the obvious step-change in energy consumption when cooling and heating appliances are in use – often pinpointing issues such as broken ducted systems or the budget impact of running multiple air-conditioning units in the home.

“UE also has a summer demand trial in progress in the Bulleen–Lower Templestowe area. This promotes the idea that customers can actively and voluntarily reduce their energy use at peak times to support the essential appliances in the home. The pilot was effective in its first summer and is proposed to operate for several more summers. It utilises the customer’s smart meter data so that the customer standard hot day consumption can be profiled against their peak time reduction behaviour to identify the extent of energy savings achieved. In many cases the customers achieved 60 per cent reductions in their energy use, and in some cases significantly higher savings.”

The data is also used to improve the reliability of the network by identifying issues and resolving them more quickly and effectively.

“Last summer United Energy used smart meter data to resolve several instances of phase imbalance in the LV network. The customer typically sees phase imbalance where some houses in their street lose power while others don’t. This occurs when the combined power consumption of all premises on one phase is excessive to the extent of phase-overload, causing the fuse to trip off. In these instances, UE was able to transfer selected premises to more lightly loaded phases, thus maintaining supply during subsequent hot days.

“The recent focus of UE has been on real-time use of smart meter capability for the management of power outages. Customers intuitively ring the outage call centre number when their supply fails. However, approximately 60 per cent of these instances relate to issues at the customer’s premise causing the circuit breaker to trip. The smart meter enables us to identify most power supply outages, and United Energy is currently working on analytics and applications that utilise this to quickly and automatically identify LV outages. This allows us to advise customers who call the outage call centre whether the issue is at the premises or in our network,” Mr Steer said.

 The future of big data in asset management

United Energy and Multinet Gas strongly believe in the need to continue innovating and exploring the potential of big data. According to Mr Steer, future innovations will allow for an even more responsive and adaptable network, building upon the improvements already made as well as providing many further benefits to utilities and their customers.

“The examples above indicate how we are improving the network and service to the customer. Many of these capabilities are broadly deployed at this stage and focused on wider network benefits, with some extending down to analytics at the locality-level (e.g. power quality). With some software improvements within the smart metering network and some new capabilities emerging in new network equipment, we see the potential for a greater individual customer focus, and focus at the LV circuit level.

“In combination with emerging localised energy solutions (battery storage, etc.) and the results from our Summer Demand Trial, we see the potential for a much greater range of both network and analytics capabilities to maintain the customer’s supply and manage a sustainable level of network investment, and we are actively driving towards this model.”

Various new technologies are already in the pipeline to take network data and control to the next level.

“A feature known as cognitive metering is being discussed within the retail sector that would capture energy data every 20 to 30 seconds. This effectively allows the capture of the appliance energy footprint within the home, so that the consumer can be in complete control of their energy use and identify the efficiency of their appliances. This is a significant data increase from the current data capture every 30 minutes,” said Mr Steer.

“We continue to consolidate the utilisation of data in both planning and real-time decision making as a core activity within our business. To manage the emerging complex energy networks, where the customer is key in localised energy generation and step-change energy reduction opportunities, in combination with networks supporting two-way energy flows, requires greater use of data in real-time to inform control room decisions during heat wave conditions, storm conditions, planned works and outages. This is a key use of big data as it relates to the network and it requires greater information sharing with the customers who seek to actively participate in those decisions.” 

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