Energizing big data
When a utility company wanted to interpret its smart-grid data, we helped it improve conservation and better serve customers.
The domestic energy landscape is changing. The United States is producing—and exporting—increasing amounts of energy, but it’s also facing an aging electrical grid and increasing energy demands. If unaddressed, our country will face costly, inconvenient blackouts. How costly? Analysis indicates that even short blackouts could result in annual economic losses as high as $18 to $33 billion.
Short of overhauling the existing grid infrastructure, energy producers are turning to smart meters, controls, and communication functions to handle future growth. Our client, an electric utility co-op, rolled out smart meters to better monitor, react to, and plan for energy use across its customer base. Once installed, the data started rolling in … and the utility co-op needed help making sense of the massive amounts of information returned. We helped the Texas-based utility use Microsoft Power BI to turn its smart grid data into actionable insights.
In 2013, the electric utility installed smart meters for its entire 170,000-meter customer base. It wanted to gain better insight into the power usage and health status of its electrical grid. As expected, the new meters returned huge amounts of data: to the tune of more than three billion records in just half a year. Its traditional meters returned 12 readings per year; the smart meters transmit more than 35,000 readings annually.
“We live in a data rich world. You’re no longer confined by technology—you’re only confined by your imagination.”
Smart grid 101
Smart grids allow the power industry to observe and better control the power system. Characterized by advanced information and communications, automated self-healing capabilities, and better tolerance of variable power sources, smart grids generate large quantities of information that provide real-time usage monitoring.
Behind the curtain
The smart meter is typically arranged in a network configuration fashioned to mirror the distribution network. Data collectors gather usage data and transmit it every four hours to a Meter Data Management system. Retail providers can then use that information, along with customer information, to provide billing and usage information.
Why smart grid?
Visibility into energy use offers a host of benefits, ranging from conservation to cost-savings.
- Reduced consumption. Smart meters can help consumers see how and when they’re using the most energy. This awareness, paired with guidance on efficient energy use and cost-saving incentives, can effectively reduce energy consumption over time.
- Improved monitoring. Data returned allows utilities to monitor the quality of current and voltage, as well as internal meter temperature—tipping them off to trending and/or dangerous events.
- Tailored rate plans. With visibility into consumer consumption, utilities can provide discounts to those who use the least energy and incentivize those who consume the most to cut back.
- Better system control. Real-time visibility enables utilities to better control the system and operations, manage grid logistics, view consequences, and shift demand and power as needed to avoid catastrophic failures.
Microsoft BI in action
Our team helped build a solution, which contains 9+ billion rows of smart meter usage data, on SQL Server 2014 Enterprise. Using advanced compression and partitioning techniques available in SQL Server 2014 Enterprise, the highly-responsive solution uses Microsoft Analysis Services and Microsoft Office 2013 Excel to provide reports and analytics—demonstrating our ability to use the BI stack across platforms, and enabling our client to gain valuable operational insights into its business.
How it works:
- Internal meter data is consolidated with property information and external weather data using our ETL (Exact Transform Load) framework, resulting in a dimensional model that’s created and stored in SQL Server 2014.
- Data is partitioned by month and compressed using Columnstore Indexes to ensure timely response of data queries.
- Analysis Services (SSAS) provides the analytical engine to connect with any compatible reporting platform, including Microsoft Excel, to take advantage of maps, pie charts, bubble charts, line graphs, and bar charts.
Conservation and customer-focused results
We helped the electric utility prove that there’s value in gleaning insights from vast volumes of data. The final reports have been used to:
Drive energy conservation efforts: Understanding how its consumers use electricity provides opportunities to make more informed decisions about efficiency programs, conservation, and rates. It can then use that information to drive consumer behavior and conservation by offering targeted rate schedules and giving consumers a glimpse at their unique usage patterns.
Rapidly respond to grid failures: Smart meters provide real-time information on both grid usage and failures. The utility now has the ability to put triggered mechanisms in place to capture—and respond to—unusual usage levels.
Enhance detail and quality of data insight: With access to thousands more meter readings per year, the utility now has empirical evidence for trends and insights that it’s always known, but was never able to prove. It plans to use these data insights to make better decisions around energy conservation, rate design, and capital plant investments.
Improve the customer experience: Our client will be able to provide a better level of service than previously possible, thanks to better customized rate schedules and more responsiveness due to the ability to trigger remote connections and disconnections.
The results of our collaboration with the utility were selected as a semifinalist in the 2013 Microsoft Power BI Demo Contest. The submission—which was required to feature Power BI for Office 365—received more than 3,000 views and 500 votes.
Smart meter metrics
A data-rich future
The potential impact of data-driven insights on the energy industry has yet to be tapped.
“It’s about helping energy companies realize that these systems they’re putting on the smart grid generate huge amounts of data. And it’s about figuring out how to leverage that data to benefit your customers,” says Patrick Brady, practice area lead in Slalom’s Data and Analytics practice. “We live in a data rich world. You’re no longer confined by technology—you’re only confined by your imagination.”