Applying Big Data to Energy

by Anjul Bhambhri

The volume, velocity and variety of data generated by our smarter planet has created a data deluge for organizations in every industry. IBM estimates that, every day, we create 2.5 exabytes of data — so much that 90 percent of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years alone.

The energy and utilities industry had been relatively stable for the past 100 years, operating in a predictable, linear way with reliable service, in spite of population growth and geographical expansion.  Yet, these organizations are facing increasing pressure from consumers, businesses, and governments to provide new ways to increase energy efficiency.

Because of the change in the status quo, many energy and utility companies have realized they cannot continue to operate in the same fashion, and have rapidly adopted new technologies to help meet these changing demands.

The new technologies, including smart meters and smart grids, are providing companies with new capabilities, including the ability to detect power failures and blown transformers and automatically shut off other transformers to limit further damage. The list of benefits are astounding as well, including the ability to forecast demand, determine customer usage patterns, optimize unit commitment and more.

According to a study done by IBM in 2011, the next generation of smart grid technology is poised to grow from $4.9 billion in 2011 to $43.3 billion in 2020. And by 2015, it is expected that more than 300 million smart meters will be deployed worldwide.

While smart grids are poised for tremendous growth, these technologies are generating unprecedented volume, speed and complexity of data, capturing data from billions of data measurement points, including networking devices, transmission sensors, power lines and generation plants, causing many utilities to drown in the data deluge.

Harnessing the Big Data wave
Let’s consider how energy and utility companies are becoming more data driven and how building a solid foundation to manage, analyze, and use this information will pay off for the utility companies, their customers and communities.

Data gathered from smart meters can provide better understanding of customer segmentation, behavior and how pricing influences usage—if companies have the capability to use that data. For example, time-of-use pricing encourages cost-savvy retail customers to run their washing machines, dryers and dishwashers at off-peak times. These customers not only save money but also require less generation capacity from their energy company, which means lower capital outlay for new generation and overall greater operational efficiency for utilities.

But the possibilities don’t end there. With the additional information available from smart meters and smart grids, it is possible to transform the network and dramatically improve the efficiency of electrical generation and scheduling.

For example, Oncor, the largest regulated electric distribution and transmission company in Texas, is working with IBM to deliver a smarter power grid to help ensure efficient electricity delivery and enable 3 million Texan households to play a more active role in helping conserve energy. The new intelligent system provides Oncor with pinpoint access and insight into billions of data measurement points, from smart meters and networking devices, to transmission sensors, power lines and generation plants.

To date, many Texan households have noted a 10 percent decrease in energy usage since the implementation.

Analytics Managed Data
Using the meter and grid data as a base, various types of analytics can be applied to better understand a number of things, including:

  • How pricing changes affect changes in demand
  • Which customer segments are most likely to respond to requests to reduce power
  • Detecting when the power flowing through a substation doesn’t match the input from the meters, which is a likely indicator of energy theft or diversion
  • Understanding which portions of the distribution system are being stressed beyond their design points and should require maintenance or upgrades
  • Determining where new generation investments should be made

It’s clear how powerful data can be when it is strategically managed, analyzed and used to transform operations, plan infrastructure, or shape consumer usage patterns. To capitalize on these new data opportunities, energy and utility companies are beginning to transform to smarter energy systems that feature a two-way flow of energy and information.

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Anjul Bhambhri

Anjul Bhambhri has 23 years of experience in the database industry with engineering and management positions at IBM, Informix and Sybase. She is currently IBM’s Vice President of Big Data Products, overseeing product strategy and business partnerships. Previously at IBM, Anjul focused on application and data lifecycle management tools and spearheaded the development of XML capabilities in DB2 database server. In 2009, she received the YWCA of Silicon Valley’s “Tribute to Women in Technology” Award. 

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