Big Data lessons from the EPRI Smart Distribution and Power Quality Conference


By: SGN Staff


By Jeff Stevenson

The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and Commonwealth Edison (ComEd) hosted a conference and exhibition to explore the technologies, innovations, and practices that will shape the future of the electric power grid. The conference was split into three tracks - Grid Modernization, Power Quality and Smart Grid Information, allowing participants to gather and share insights about emerging technologies, best practices and practical experiences.


As the transmission and distribution power grids are modernized and additional data are collected at various points in the system, utilities are finding that "Big Data” is touching nearly all aspects of the industry. Utilities must manage and process increasing amounts of data to create actionable information. One session, IT and OT Convergence, addressed the big data issue. Three different presenters offered their perspective on the impetus and challenges of Information Technology (IT) and Operational Technology (OT) coexisting within an organization. Historically, Operations organizations have created their own, separate technology functions because they perceived that their needs could not be met by the IT organization. Reasons included IT’s lack of understanding, lack of urgency, or proposing solutions that were too expensive. As grids have been equipped with sensor and data collection technology, Operations organizations have had to collect and process more data and many have tried to initially tackle this task on their own.


Gerald R. Gray, PhD., Enterprise Architecture & Integration with EPRI, stated that once utilities recognize these separate technology silos and want to do something about them, they typically take one of three paths: Re-org, Re-engage or Re-align. Whether a utility completely reorganizes its staff, realigns employees based on certain skill sets or endeavors to simply increase communication, paying attention to the concept of enterprise architecture (EA) can make a difference in the success of the effort. EA ensures that an enterprise view is applied and considered throughout the process.


Every organization has some degree of enterprise architecture. However, when this concept is formalized, understood and then combined with the guiding principles of the organization, extraordinary achievements can be accomplished. The business operation and IT operation can become more aligned and more efficient, which reduces the risks associated with future investments. In many cases, this alignment is becoming a priority as the volume and complexity of data outpaces the operations staff’s ability to process it. Having the right people in the right place focused in the right direction is the key to success.


Later, Great River Energy provided a real world example of IT/OT alignment. Mark Peterson, Supervisor of Operations Engineering and Ron Schmitz, Manager of Information Services, shared their perspectives on what their utility did to increase the collaboration of these two organizations. Like many utilities, Great River’s operations staff had developed its own technology function. Network technologies converged, data ballooned, and cyber security regulations increased at the same time organizational changes reduced the size of the staff. Both organizations were challenged with the change at first, but recognized that both were needed to operate the business. Neither staff could get by just "doing what needed to be done” and continuing to work independently.