Smart meters and Big Data: A clear case for governance best practices


By Sunil Soares


Over the past five years, utilities have been early drivers of big data analytics, largely through regional smart meter projects where it’s been proven that sensors can be used to easily capture and share energy usage data to be analyzed by consumers.   


Since North American utilities started rolling out smart meters across facilities, they have been able to capture usage data every 15 to 60 minutes for residential and commercial customers, and communicate this information on a daily basis to the utility for billing and analytics. This compares greatly to the traditional electricity and gas meters, where data usage was only read on a monthly or quarterly basis, and was only measured via gross consumption and offered no insight into when the energy was actually consumed.


Today, smart meters enable utilities to offer differentiated billing to customers such as lower rates during off-peak hours and higher rates during peak hours. With differentiated billing, utilities can develop pricing plans encouraging customers to reduce usage during peak hours. This allows utilities to reduce generation capacity if they can manage peak customer demand.


Between 2009 and 2012, approximately 5 million of Southern California Edison's (SCE) residential and small-business customers are getting new smart meters with Edison SmartConnect, SCE’s smart metering program.  Based on "next-generation” technology, Edison SmartConnect was designed with a focus on the customer.  With millions of meters already deployed to the field, in April 2011, SCE started providing customers with interval data collected by reading the smart meters over a secure, wireless two-way communication system. This system is empowering customers to become better-informed managers of their electricity use through new tools, programs and services that will help them save energy, money, and the environment.

The new meters are smart because they can communicate - not only with the customer about their electricity usage and pricing signals, but they can also communicate with the utility to indicate if there are  fluctuations in power or even accurately pinpoint an outage.  For a utility such as SCE, smart meters are generating a wealth of new information that is fundamentally changing the way we interact with our customers.  Our information management strategy for smart grid starts with an investment in data governance practices and a data warehouse to ensure timely and accurate information is made accessible to our customers.

 - Tom Walker, Southern California Edison, Edison SmartConnect, Director of Business Integration

Here are a few governance best practices utilities can follow for smart meter data:


1.     Access policies - The information governance program needs to establish a number of policies around which departments and functions can access smart meter data. There are reams of real-time interval data from smart meters that are brought into utility data warehouses. They can then leverage this data to understand customer usage patterns. The customers need to access this data from the web to understand how their electricity usage affects their monthly bills.


  1. Establish database monitoring policies - Establishing database monitoring policies determines who within the utility is actually assessing the meter data. As smart meters become more mainstream, regulators such as state public utility commissions in the United States will become more assertive about protecting consumers’ privacy rights. As a result, the information governance programs at utilities need to be prepared to address these regulations.

  1. Archiving policies - Policies need to be set by the information governance program around data archiving in order to avoid rising storage costs from smart meter data. For example, a utility can set a time period for how long they maintain meter interval data before it is moved to secondary storage to reduce costs.

  1.  Metadata - Electric power utilities use reliability indicators such as the System Average Interruption Duration Index (SAIDI) and the System Average Interruption Frequency Index (SAIFI). Local authorities generally require some form of service level agreement regarding SAIDI and SAIFI in order to calculate usage consistently for measurement and pricing purposes.

In 2011, nearly 36 million smart meters were installed by utilities in the U.S. As these meters come online in 2012, and the smart grids they comprise begin generating and sharing data across millions of endpoints, utilities will once again set information governance best practices that other industries can follow.


Sunil Soares is the Director of Information Governance within IBM Software Group. Sunil has worked with more than a hundred clients across multiple industries including banking, insurance, life sciences, energy and utilities, retail, telecommunications, manufacturing, healthcare and government. Sunil helps clients assess their Information Governance Maturity and determine the appropriate processes and tools to move forward. Kevin Monagle, Associate Partner, Energy & Utilities, IBM Global Business Services, also contributed to this article.

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