Over the last ten years, utilities around the world have have invested billions of dollars in the Internet of Things (IoT). Better known as smart grid and smart meter initiatives, this massive intelligent infrastructure is moving utilities into a future that’s beginning to look radically different from the century-old business model that has provided reliable, affordable, safe electricity to billions of people.
Smart grid and smart meters are scoring big time on the customer side of the business, but operationally the benefits have yet to be fully realized. One area where utilities can leverage IoT is by making better use of the available data to improve asset management practices. There are several bright spots in the U.S. utility landscape where there is movement toward a data- and analytics-centric approach to managing assets in the transmission and distribution space. As an industry, though, we have a long way to go.
Having worked in the utility asset management market for 20 years, I’ll suggest a few concepts that may help us take better advantage of the resources available. I call them “the four Is.”
A successful asset analytics initiative involves everybody being data aware from the field to the boardroom. The data goals of the crews doing the work in the field need to align with the goals of the executive sponsor and everybody in between. Data quality is a big problem across utility analytics, so let’s engage those who create the data to make it an asset not a mess. Ask crew members how they can be more involved. Incentivize them to manage their work and the resulting data more effectively.
Many asset management practices predate the emergence of new data sets that can change the asset management game in terms of cost, reliability, safety, and effectiveness. Examples include using smart meter data for modeling transformer loads, to pulling in weather data to predict wear on assets from extreme weather conditions, to leveraging sensor data on field devices and equipment, to integrating data residing in other systems like geospatial information systems (the connectivity model, for example) to build more predictive asset models. Pick one asset type, then run small analysis pilots to see how this data-rich environment can change your asset game.
Utilities and data silos go together like a summer in the southeast and humidity. The good news – at least for the utilities and data silos – is that there are a lot of new tools breaking down these silos. Before you get to the tools, step back and think about integration from an organizational perspective. What data really needs to be isolated in one part of the organization? Some of us may remember in the early ‘90s when a handful of utilities allowed IT departments to gain access to operational data (supervisory control and data acquisition), and the sun still came up the next day.
Like a good football team knows how to execute on the field, a utility looking to improve its asset management practices and results must take action. Find what works, then repeat it. Are there best practices around capturing data? What lessons-learned on one asset type can be applied to others? Don’t reinvent the wheel more than necessary.
There is no simple formula to help utilities make overnight improvements to asset management practices, but leveraging data and analytics is the key to success. Start small – take on just one of the four Is – and start down the road to improved reliability and effectiveness.