Stepping into smart grid analytics

Utilities, customers sorting through data deluge

With smart grid infrastructure increasingly becoming the rule rather than the exception in the energy industry, utilities are scrambling to stay ahead of the technology curve. But despite its widely accepted potential benefits, building out the smart grid remains a relatively new process, and many utilities still face questions about how to optimize this infrastructure to maximize profits and grid operation.

Analytics present a whole host of opportunities -- and challenges -- for utilities.

The smart grid can only work if its many components are properly integrated, but getting all these new technologies to work in concert is a huge challenge that requires a holistic understanding of grid assets and grid operation.

That's where analytics come in. Not only can analytics help utilities understand how their grid operates,they also hold the key to getting utility staff and executives on board with smart grid investment costs and organizational adjustments that come along with the smart grid.

Toward a customer-facing industry

Utilities realize that customers can no longer be seen as ratepayers, and using analytics can be a key component in making that transition. By making smart meter data available and transparent, utilities can show customers how to make meaningful adjustments to their energy use, as well as involve them in demand response and conservation programs. But a data deluge is of little use to a customer who wants to view their power use, so care must be taken to present analytics in a useful way.

Utilities realize that customers can no longer be seen as ratepayers, and using analytics can be a key component in making that transition.

Analytics can also be used to help utilities target incentives to certain customer groups, which is a departure from the old view of treating all customers the same -- people who are billed each month.

The city of Fort Collins, Colo., for example, is using analytics to achieve conservation goals by segmenting customer data by highest summer usage and ranking them by potential for savings.

"We wanted to use the tools and do some customized analytics to really identify those commercial customers that had the highest summer cooling use and create some marketing plans and structure around how to reach those in the order of their savings potential," said John Phelan, energy services manager at the Fort Collins Utility, speaking at a recent conference.

But although this data is available, utilities are still in the beginning stages of feeling out how to best get information from this data.

"You're never going to get all the data to line up for all of the accounts for all of the buildings," Phelan said. "But that's ok."

FCU's pilot is part of a larger trial-and-error period for utilities as they look to squeeze valuable information out of all the new found data brought on by the smart grid.