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Utility data analytics offer value now

Analyzing data is the lifeblood of the scientific method and a perennial practice in the utility field. Thank the Enlightenment. It's critical to all walks of life, from biology to business.

We're all aware, however, that the ongoing digitization of the grid is producing data on a scale hitherto unknown to utilities. They must attempt to store, manage and mine data for business value, safety, power quality, asset management, customer behavior—and those are just the tips of many icebergs. The scale and speed of data have produced a behemoth that requires taming with an algorithmic sword that will tease out meaning and value, before the challenge morphs into a dreaded Leviathan.

Utilities, of course, are just one industry among many facing this challenge and the power industry may be said to enter the Land of Big Data somewhat later than others. That said, the power industry's issues differ from all others when it comes to the safety, reliability and resilience of the grid.

Thus, by the end of the year just past, reports on the analytics market were flying in every direction, vendors were reiterating their pitches and utilities found that Big Data could require Big Aspirin and, possibly, counseling. If myriad devices and systems on your grid produce Big Data, which is the most crucial data stream to your business to analyze? Which data challenges are cost effective to tackle and in what order?

Given utilities' guarded approach to vendor pitches, a stance revealed by our own readership surveys of your ranks, we offer critical value through peer-to-peer insights. Obviously every utility has a different heritage, technologically, demographically and in terms of its business model, so we can illuminate the discussions while each utility does its own shopping for applications and solutions.

For now, I'd like to apprise our readers of two upcoming events in this vein and offer links to a string of articles that can illuminate myriad angles to this emerging topic.  

First, on Tuesday, Jan. 31, at noon EST, Mike Smith, vice president, Utility Analytics Institute (UAI is a sister organization to Intelligent Utility), will moderate a webcast, "Deep Data: Navigating from Raw Data to Enterprise Information Management."

Second, have a look at the speakers and panelists for the Utility Analytics Institute Summit set for Orlando, Feb. 15-16.

The following are a few nuggets to mull over or explore further from our recent coverage of the overnight sensation (read: it's been years in the making) that is Big Data.

"Five Analytics Forecasts for 2012," by my colleague Christine Richards, analyst with the UAI, said that utilities will spend a great deal of money looking for the proverbial needle in the haystack—that critical insight from reams of data—and that the vendor marketplace will be fluid and crowded. 

In "Smart Grid Analytics: From Data to Decisions," I noted that San Diego Gas & Electric expects to apply analytics to improve customer empowerment, outage management, condition-based asset management and the integration of distributed  renewable energy sources. This column included insights from OGE's "Information Factory" and TransAlta Corp.'s own process for managing data-to-value. 

Some of these insights will require closer scrutiny and I can recommend replaying the webcast titled "Lessons Learned: How Utilities Leverage Data," and downloading the slide deck for the nuances of the work by SDG&E, OGE and TransAlta. 

If you want an example of a utility that has focused on one crucial application of data analytics, then you might want to read about "The Promise (and Application) of Data Analytics," in which a Florida Power & Light Co. analyst discusses revenue protection. 

In "Data Analytics, the New Frontier," I cover Richards' report on the data analytics market and her salient point that the challenge is to obtain and deliver the right data at the right time to the right user. In fact, substitute the word "insight" for "data" in the preceding sentence, because too much information is precisely what's to be avoided in this exercise. The goal is to reduce information to a set of quantifiably rational choices that still require human judgment. 

I'll leave it at that for today. Below are a few more resources you can peruse at your discretion.

"Data Analysis: What's It Telling Us?"

"Electric Utility Data Analytics in 2020"

"OGE: Profiting from Data Analysis"

Phil Carson
Intelligent Utility Daily



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