Experts discuss value of energy analytics

How often do you question the availability of power? Outside of weather events, the answer is probably, “not much.” But what if you have an electric vehicle?  Or manage a data center?  Rely on either of those technologies and you might consider electricity as a constraint, around which you plan where you travel or how aggressively to grow your business.

These considerations have given rise to one of the hottest topics in the energy sector today:  analytics.  Recently, smart grid analytics was the focus topic at a meeting of the Triangle Area Analytics Group (TAAG), a group of analytically-minded professionals from various industry sectors.

The TAAG panelists made it clear that we live in a highly sensored and data rich world.  Smart phones are just the beginning, really.  Anything that receives power today has an electrical signature that provides data.  Apply analytics to that data and you can interpret that signal to detect even the slightest change that may be an early indicator of power failure or deteriorating power quality.

Panelists presented numerous cases of how utilities use analytics today to improve performance and reduce operating costs.  For example, using analytics to identify asset maintenance problems is one way to overcome the challenge of an aging infrastructure. The PG&E gas explosion  of 2010 that killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes has been linked to inadequate data on infrastructure management.  With safety metrics on every utility director’s scorecard, this analytical application is sure to grow.

Utilities who use analytics to detect technical and non-technical losses are not only improving the return on smart grid investments, but they are reducing fraud in the system. Matt Zafuto of Sensus explained that, with advanced metering technologies, utilities receive data every 15 minutes (on average) for millions of customers.  In addition to detecting when someone has tampered with a meter to avoid paying for electricity, this “big data” can be analyzed to improve load forecasting or customer segmentation.

The panelists also said to watch for emerging technologies such as appliance monitoring (ZigBee) and Smart Building technologies to deliver even more data on energy consumption to utilities and customers alike.

There is a lot going on at SAS these days on the topic of energy analytics:

  • In this short video series, SAS shows how analytics hypercharge a utility’s return on smart grid investments.  And the research continues into new areas of application.  
  • Two papers on advanced analytics in outage management and in distribution optimization will be presented in April at SAS Global Forum (#SASGF13).  
  • SAS is also a founding member of the Research Triangle Cleantech Cluster (RTCC), which works to enhance regional innovation on smart grid, renewable energy, clean water and related technologies. Other panelists from Field2Base and PowerAnalytics are also founding members of the RTCC.

Back at the Triangle Area Analytics Group meeting, the only debate of the morning came during a discussion on how to overcome regulatory restrictions that often inhibit utility investments. With fifty states and fifty regulatory schemes, utilities and the business community alike will be debating that topic for years to come.

tags: analytics, big data, fraud, predictive asset maintenance, SAS Global Forum, smart grid, utilities


  1. Patrick
    Posted April 10, 2013 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

    I do believe that with more intermittent sources of generation such as wind and solar there will be an increased need for analytics. This will be coupled with more real time information from end users through smart meters. I would question why this has not been been established sooner by utilities. Google made an effort with the Powermeter but eventually abandoned the project. What is different this time? Is there more engagement from utilities?


    • Alyssa Farrell Alyssa Farrell
      Posted April 11, 2013 at 10:24 am | Permalink

      Hi Patrick: To date, the installations of wind and solar have not reached the point at which they are affecting grid stability. The intermittency can be managed. However, utilities in many parts of the world (Nordics, western US) are quickly approaching the threshold at which analytics will be requited to optimally manage the mix of distributed generation assets -- or risk outages. Renewable resources will continue to grow in relationship to traditional power sources, but there is no silver bullet to help a utility manage the complexity. Improved weather forecasting, advanced distribution management technologies, and new customer engagement models are all part of the solution.

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