Big data to actionable information

Cobb EMC, OG&E and the Utility Analytics Institute explain the value path

Kate Rowland | Feb 09, 2012

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What is Big Data? 

According to Mike Smith, vice president, marketing practices, for Energy Central's Utility Analytics Institute (UAI), "The reality is, in the world we live in beyond utilities, there's an incredible amount of digital data being created.

"Smart grid has created a lot of change in this industry," Smith said, adding that individual meter reads alone will leap from 12 per year to 35,040.

In last week's webcast, "Deep Data: Navigating from Raw Data to Enterprise Information Management," Smith gave an overview of UAI's utility data analytics research, as well as suggestions from an MIT report, "Big Data, Analytics and the Path from Insights to Value" about how to draw value from the data.

While the MIT report suggested focusing on the biggest opportunity first -- "one big important problem" -- to demonstrate value to one's organization, Smith pointed out that there has been some debate within the industry as to whether this is the best path to follow with utility data analytics. "It seems to be the exact opposite of going after the low-hanging fruit, what we've seen historically," he said.

As well, he said, "One of the challenges we're seeing is utilities have very historically established data management principles, practices and governance," and these legacy data practices need to be maintained while overlaying new ones.

UAI research, too, has noted that the most difficult or biggest hurdle in implementing analytics within the utility, according to all utilities interviewed, is budget availability and/or the lack of necessary skills or staff. "The budget one is kind of predictable, because we do know those challenges exist," Smith said. As far as the staffing issue is concerned, he said, "Utilities are finding they're going to have to do some things maybe that they haven't done before - working with partners, or having some hiring practices, trying to figure out, 'Where are we going to find these folks?'

"Those are just some of the issues we see," he added. "It's a very dynamic marketplace in terms of what utilities are doing today."

As my colleague Phil Carson noted in his column, "OGE's Three-tiered Architecture Aids Data Analysis," on Monday, Cobb EMC's Roque Marinho, director of enterprise business intelligence, and OGE Energy Corp.'s Brian Eakin, load forecast analyst, strategy and business planning, both discussed the ways in which their utilities are looking at the big data they are now bringing in.

Marinho laid out the challenge around Big Data as follows:

  • Big data consists of data sets that grow so large that they become awkward.
  • Difficulties include capture, storage, search, sharing, analytics and visualizing.
  • Data is increasingly being gathered by ubiquitous information-sensing mobile devices, aerial sensing technologies (remote sensing), software logs, cameras, microphones, RFID readers, wireless sensor networks, and so on.
  • Every day, 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are created and 90 percent of the data in the world today was created within the past two years.


"We have been creating enormous volumes of data much faster than before," Marinho said. As well, he said, "We are going from a limited capability for storage to unlimited, in the cloud ... now we can treat more data in a whole different way."

Smith asked OGE's Eakin about the highest value questions or problems that OGE Energy management has asked be solved via analytics.

"I would say, from the perspective of our senior management, they want to know what the impact is to our customers of different rates that we're offering, and not only in terms of "Are the customers saving money? How many of them are saving money?" but then also what the value is in terms of the demand response that we're getting from them," Eakin said.

"A lot of questions that we're getting are around our residential and commercial demand response programs, and a lot of that is in alignment with our 2020 plan, and being able to get some insight into potentially which types of customers would be good to have participate in the program, how would we market to those customers, and getting an idea of what's the value proposition, not only to the customer, but to the utility," he added.

"Those are some of the things we've been utilizing the interval data sets for that we've been receiving, to try to get an idea as far as what the value is."

For the complete webcast and slides, click here.

Next week, H. Christine Richards, a senior analyst for UAI, and I will be reporting here in Intelligent Utility Daily from the Utility Analytics Institute's first summit, taking place Feb. 15-16 in Orlando, Florida, as leading practitioners, your peers and others explain the nuances around unlocking value from the data.

Kate Rowland
Editor-in-Chief, Intelligent Utility magazine
krowland@energycentral.com

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