Utility of Tomorrow

Kaustubh Bhople | Feb 24, 2014

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PERSPECTIVE

Smart Grid, Social Media, Big Data are words which are prevalent in every IT implementation in the utility space. Whenever we ask about the future of any utility the response will have these three words; in addition to those, one more word is included i.e. Real-Time. So let's try to define the utility of tomorrow

"A Utility with real time monitoring of the grid and enable customer participation through various available channels including social media in real time grid operations with the help of big data enabled smart grid analytics."

For any utility, the important dimensions of smart grid are - Firstly, Customer Engagement and secondly Analytics. Engaging customer in real time grid operations is the need of the hour to make the grid efficient and reliable; at the same time analytics is the backbone of tomorrow's utility. The Customer Participation and Analytics need to be performed in real time for most efficient grid management. There are many aspects of customer engagement as well as Data Analytics. In next section we will explain the aspects in more details.

ROADMAP

Customer Engagement

With the advent of communication technology, everyone's phone is a personnel computer and a medium to interact with world. Utilities are creating basic web portals for bill payments, consumption data analysis, service request and some utilities with advance features like suggesting payment plans etc. This all is again the one way communication. This all are the nice to have features but they don't really part of smart grid. To make the grid smart, it should have customer participation in handling their consumption in real time, below are the requirements of customer engagement for smart grid.

  • 1.       Customers able to participate in the grid operation through any suitable channel i.e. availability of the data and a way on all the available channels.

  • 2.       Customers able to handle their home appliances from mobile or web portal.

  • 3.       Customers are not acting only as consumers but `Prosumers' i.e. they are injecting power in the grid.

  • 4.       DR program alerts on mobile, social networking sites and other such communication points.

No utility can grow only by its own, it is always mutual i.e. customer as well as utility growth will form the `utility of tomorrow'. There are many such customer engagements necessary for utility to be a leader.

Data Analytics

The definition of smart grid says it's a self-healing and efficient grid. For the grid to be self-healing and efficient the basic requirement is data availability in real time and the most important requirement is analytics based on the data in real time. The major smart grid analytics will involve

  • 1.       Forecasting the demand: It's not simple forecasting as done till now, it is correcting the forecasting in real time. Based on this data, utility will be able to procure the power in intraday trading; also utility will be able to decide on the Rapid DR programs etc.

  • 2.       Asset Analytics: This involves continuous monitoring of the utility assets and based on the real time data predicting the asset health. This will help to reduce the loading of any damaged asset, reducing the outages, reduction in maintenance cost and much more.

  • 3.       Program Analytics: This will help utility to decide in real time about the Rapid DR program. In addition to this, it will help utility to launch more popular and acceptable program.

  • 4.       Targeting Customers: Based on the data from social networking sites as well as customer data with the utility, help to understand customer behaviors and based on which targeting customer for new programs will be the most effective way of real time customer engagement.

Big Data - the emerging concept of Analytics and Information Technology. Big Data technology is based on three V's i.e. Velocity, Variety and Volume. With the passing of each day, the data of utilities is growing manifolds; also, with the consideration of social media data - which is mostly unstructured and finally real time requires real fast analysis. These requirements are making Big Data as an inevitable part of smart grid.

Modern Day Enhancements

In addition to these requirements, the utility of tomorrow needs to have great presentation skills. This involves attractive and at the same time user friendly User Interface for customer engagement. Utility should have mobile App which is as good as its site; through this App only customer should be able to perform all its enrollment and tracking. Also, the dashboard design for the utility personnel should be of utmost important. This will help operator to understand the situation very easily. The interaction with the dashboard is as advanced as possible. This will help easy handling of the dashboard. In addition to these requirements, another important feature will be `Alarms'. Customers and utility personnel will get the alerts through SMS, mail whichever way they have registered for.

CONCLUSION

With the every growing technology i.e. sensing devices, communication networks and automation the service providing grid is transformed into interactive, self-healing efficient network known as Smart Grid. Yet, without use of data for business intelligence, the smart grid is just a more expensive version of the traditional service providing grid.

The two important facets of utility of tomorrow are Customer Engagement and Analytics. Utility of tomorrow should use every available channel to reach out to its stakeholders especially customers. This will improve the customer participation and grid efficiency. The prime prerequisite will be availability of relevant data to each stakeholder in real time. This will make the analytics more stringent because of voluminous data and speed requirement. This can be handled with the newborn concept of Big Data and Cloud. Not only this, but the analytics need to be continuously improved with the growing data.

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Comments

As a consumer I cannot detect any difference between electric utility service today and 80 years ago when I sometimes I hand-delivered a check for the month's service and often carried home a bag of “free” assorted light bulbs.

By all means phase in Smart Meters with differential rates to encourage off-peak usage – a wonderful application of electronics. We had great electric service long before we had weekly 30 minute AM radio shows – the only electronics.

I erred above. I failed to say today my electric water heater and A/C can be shut off by the utility for 15 minutes during peaking conditions. Of course 80 years ago we had no A/C nor electric water heating.