The implementation of smart meters and advanced metering infrastructures (AMI) are growing initiatives for many electric utilities around the world. With smart meters, consumers of electric power are beginning to have greater visibility into their energy usage at a more detailed level. Both utilities and consumers have remote management capabilities unlike any time before. Consumers now have access to apps and utility-sponsored websites to manage power usage at a much finer level and in response to a variety of pre-programmed conditions. Utilities can perform more activities on a remote basis, eliminating time-consuming and error-prone manual methods. However, the reality of smart meters right now is not exactly smooth sailing. But smart meters are here to stay and undoubtedly the technology will improve very quickly.
Improving customer service and customer administration are good benefits of smart meters. But most electric utilities are monopolies one way or another so they’re likely to be even more interested in putting smart technologies to work to determine the best ways to sustain power supplies, forecast usage levels to better match supply and demand, reduce unnecessary usage, and improve results with settlement markets by decreasing inaccurate predictions. These goals will also benefit consumers in the long run, as lower rates should result from smart management of power resources.
Obviously smart meters are generating vast volumes of data that can be continuously analyzed to support utility initiatives and strategies. Analytics have been part of power utilities for quite some time, with extensive use for operations and maintenance. However, there are still gaps in processing smart meter big data that must be addressed by utilities and the tools they use to mine, analyze and understand what the machine-generated data is telling them.
While many meter data management systems (MDMS) offer various analytics capabilities, these systems are generally not equipped to handle complex analytics involving disparate data sources and big data volumes. However many MDMS do provide sophisticated analytics that feed into systems planning, operations and the formulation of strategies. Meter data analytics provide utilities with the insights that they need to:
- Manage and prevent outages
- Build predictive models for demand program planning
- Create and fine-tune rate plans and services for consumers
- Implement preventive maintenance procedures
New data management and analytics platforms are needed not only to handle smart meter data but to correlate it with existing data in enterprise data warehouses, as well as environmental and geospatial data. It’s likely that third party industry data is another must-have ingredient to get the most from analytics processes. Data sources other than smart meters are essential to establish context for different analytics processes and to help flesh out patterns for interpretation. Other data sources can further validate or even offer skepticism for what the smart meter data alone might be communicating. A big data processing platform is needed to provide the high performance to continuously chew through big data volumes and complexities. A high performance platform opens the door for more data explorations through various analytical models, including on-the-fly experimentation.
Like many other industries, power utilities encounter distinct challenges to measuring overall business performance, particularly with the complexities of generating, distributing, buying and selling electricity, as well as correlating supply with consumer usage. And these utilities now must incorporate emerging power technologies into the mix of sources and usage, and also address risk management, energy theft and revenue protection across all energy resources. Data analytics for utilities will move more and more to real-time processes to support real-time decision-making at all levels of the enterprise. Those utilities that harness the extreme potential of smart meter data, along with other sources, will open up new opportunities for sustaining power resources, improving operational efficiencies, and lifting profitability.
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