Awash in data, utilities invest in technologies to support smart grid

According to a new survey, global utility companies who are among the early adopters of smart grid technologies are beginning to invest heavily in supporting functions, such as meter-to-cash technologies. But the survey also found a significant number of top companies are not utilizing the data to its fullest extent.

In a study commissioned by CSC and conducted by IDC Energy Insights, it was found that the top twenty utilities and retail energy providers worldwide are increasing their investments in information and communication technologies. However, the growing wave of data being generated by transmission and distribution sensors, is being underutilized to impact business processes and customer interactions. According to the report, less than half of respondents are leveraging the data generated by their smart grid technologies through analytics to understand consumption patterns or response to new pricing. Managing simple meter data is proving more complex in many cases, resulting in longer and more costly implementation periods just to set up basic billing functions, the report continued.

“Smart meters and a diversity of transmission and distribution grid sensors are generating volumes of data, and this has the potential to have a profound effect on the business,” said Jill Feblowitz, practice director at IDC Energy Insights, in a statement accompanying the report. “Surprisingly, utilities executives indicated that they are not yet at a point where they’re making full use of this data.”

Meter-to-cash technologies and other smart devices could allow utilities to identify potential revenue leakage, forecast customers’ ability to pay and allow customers to know when they are in danger of reaching pre-set limits. But without proper customer intelligence and analytics most of the information goes unused.

“A critical component of successful planning is a comprehensive, long-term roadmap for the smart enterprise that takes into account changes in technology, business processes and customer interactions,” Robert E. Welch, president of CSC’s Chemical, Energy and Natural Resources Group, said in a statement.

In the United States, utilities are focused on customer-facing aspects of the grid, such as smart metering, as well as operational aspects of transmission and distribution sensors, the report found. And although Recovery Act funding has been a driver in smart grid pilot deployments, projects that utilities believe are strategic will move forward with or without ARRA funding.

Despite the lack of analytics, CSC and IDC officials say that market competition and a long-term vision of enterprise architecture can help utilities who invest in smart grid R&D recoup their cost in relatively short amounts of time.

“The move to smart energy provides utilities with the opportunity to improve competitiveness, profitability and customer satisfaction. ROI can be realized more quickly than many utilities recognize. The average payback for investments in smart metering/Advanced Metering Infrastructure is just six years. The average ROI period for dynamic pricing is even faster, just three years,” added Welch.

To read the full report, click here.

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