Support technologies help utilities industry move from analog to digital

According to a survey from IDC Energy Insights, the growing wave of data being generated by transmission and distribution sensors in smart grid projects is being underutilized. The report says less than half of the world’s top twenty utilities and retail energy providers are leveraging the data generated by their smart grid technologies through analytics to understand consumption patterns or new pricing responses.

Utilities are simply awash in data. But according to Bryan Truex and Terry Burns at Teradata, emerging data warehousing and analytics can not only help energy companies use their data, but it can be done cheaply.

“One of the things we’ve heard from utilities is that analytics is really expensive – $30 to $40 million per year to do this,” said Mr. Truex, Sr. Director of Utilities Industry Marketing and Solutions at Teradata, a data warehousing and analytics company. “We are debunking that myth, from a regulatory and utility standpoint.”

Mr. Truex says a comprehensive and scalable architecture to capture data from different areas is available at a fraction of that price.

“The most value is connecting dots between data marts,” added Terry Burns, Executive Consultant of Energy and Utilities at Teradata. “In the past, energy forecast have been done on aggregated bases. What were seeing is if forecasts can be based on interval type data, it results in savings in operation and for consumers.”

By moving away from an aggregated view of their customers’ energy consumption, some utilities are on the brink of using analytics the way Wal-Mart, Macy’s or AT&T does. Wal-Mart makes billions every quarter because its data management strategy has allowed it to align costs with use, resulting in more operational efficiencies and lower prices.

Mr. Burns said this view of “data as an asset” is a developing phenomenon inside the utility industry. “A couple of years ago, this wouldn’t have been a universally held opinion. Pilots are helping them appreciate the essential part of analytics,” he said.

The challenge is in moving an analog industry into a digital one. But Mr. Truex points out that it has been done with telecommunications companies.

“There’s disconnect between Washington [DC] and states,” Truex contends. “In that you’ve got folks in DC giving away billions in stimulus funds. And that money has to be matched by some degree by utility companies who then go back to jurisdictions. Then at state and local levels, you’ve got 100 year old regulatory regimes to get matching funds approved through.”

A lot of regulators are pushing hardware solutions, Truex continued, and IT and data aspects got left behind. “You’ve got a new level of tech that’s more digital, and you forgot about power of data to fundamentally change business.”

But both noted that some states have begun to align their efficiency standards and carbon reduction goals, which has the potential to bring similar regulations together across jurisdictions.

“There are a lot of new opportunities, Mr. Burns said. “The application of analytics have just touched the surface.”