Today, there is no dearth of data. IT Systems, customers, devices, machines, sensors, gauges, market systems, social feeds, instant messaging, mobile interaction, the list of data sources is endless. Anything and everything is spewing out an unusual amount of data. Businesses are overwhelmed by the sheer volume, speed and complexity of the data. While some are confused as to what to do with this data, others are gearing up to make data work in favour of their business. Unfortunately, utilities companies are lagging behind when it comes to taking advantage of the business value potential presented by big data.
An industry survey reports that utilities are still not seizing smart grid data opportunity. Yet, the report also predicted that the average utility with more than one million customers will invest approximately $180 million in smart grid and metering technology over the next five years. Some of the challenges that Utilities companies face with big data are:
- Lack of right talent to identify right use cases
- Lack of preparedness to handle big data
- Lack of clarity on the Return on Investment
Having said that, progressive utilities are realizing the benefits of integrating data and the various possibilities and opportunities it brings forth. Higher revenues and reduced maintenance costs are seen as two primary motivators for utilizing smart grid data to boost business strategies.
The application of data in utilities can be broadly classified as below:
1) Customer side
Utilities companies no longer function like lumbering bureaucracies. The less competitive nature of this sector has seen dramatic changes in the recent past owing to several factors like privatization, regulatory reforms, political and economic environment and emergence of new technologies. Customers appear right at the center of any strategy developed by Utilities. There is a fundamental refactoring happening in customer touching processes. Customers are no longer seen as just meter end points. With the introduction of smart meters, there is lot more data on customers now available than in the past. Smart meters provide usage information at a granular level that can be analyzed to derive a variety of useful information. Following are the key customer-touching processes that will significantly benefit from big data analytics:
- Customer Segmentation
- Tailored product offering for customers
- New business services to increase customer stickiness – e.g. Home maintenance services, energy efficiency services etc.
- Proactive service initiation and completion for customers to enhance customer experience
2) Asset side
Big data has a huge role to play on the asset side of the business in improving reliability, security and availability of a plant or a network. There has been significant innovation in operations technology that has paved way for a truly self-healing grid or a resilient plant. With right analytics models, one can predict trips, outages and leakages thereby avoiding huge financial, environment and human losses. The analytics can also be used in better planning of investments - new build outs versus upgrades, employees versus contractors.
3) Commercial/Risk side
Billions of dollars can be saved if there is better and timely visibility to the demand and supply information. Big data solutions allows one to more accurately model factors influencing demand and supply such as weather, fuel availability, equipment efficiency, network load, fuel price, emission level, demographics etc.
Environment, Health, Safety and Risk departments in Utilities will considerably benefit from advanced risk scoring techniques enabled by integrating variety of risks that Utilities are subjected to: Asset led risks, Competency led risks, Process led risks, Security led risks, Geo-political risks and Environmental risks.
Do you think there are other areas where big data empowers utilities? Share your thoughts in the comments section below