Utilities are dead. Or, at least that’s what the news would like you to believe. But they are not. Rather, utilities
are in the midst of a transformation, driven by technologies that are enabling distributed resources to take over some of the work performed by large, centralized assets, just as PCs changed the role of mainframes and data centers.
Here are five ways that big data will play an outsized role in this transformation.
Many utility providers perform scheduled maintenance on equipment, but scheduled maintenance is both expensive and inefficient. Predictive maintenance allows them to better allocate resources while cutting costs and reducing service disruptions.
Dong Energy, a leading provider of wind energy, has implemented a condition-based maintenance program to better coordinate maintenance trips with wind and wave conditions, reducing the total number of trips. Just cutting unscheduled maintenance visits from four to two per year could annually save the company $20 million Eurosy. In many ways, predictive maintenance is the entry point for big data.
Arizona Public Services (APS) is a solar-utilities provider that operates nine solar power plants, 59 commercial scale arrays, and 1,500 APS-owned residential rooftop systems. Using big data from their residential rooftop systems, APS can now see how residential solar systems can impact the grid. Complementing with historical data, APS is now moving toward predictive analytics that will help them forecast solar-power generation up to one week in advance.
Xcel Energy has created an advanced wind-forecasting system to improve their ROI from renewable turbines. Over the past six years, Xcel estimates that big data has helped lower the mean average error in its forecasts by 38 percent and saved them $46 million dollars through reduced gas consumption and lower maintenance costs.
Often, utility providers are a market of one when it comes to software systems, so providers develop solutions in-house to fit their needs. Now, as utility providers look to capitalize on big data, some are spinning off internal applications into viable businesses that use this data to offer extended (and beneficial) services to customers.
For example, Edison International now operates Edison Energy, a subsidiary that helps customers manage energy portfolios. This company is built on $100 million dollars of startup acquisitions and operates separately from Edison International, focusing on lowering costs for customers. PJM and Tepco are similarly looking at ways to commercialize new services through in-house technologies.
Customer service and social media
Social media can be a company’s best friend or its worst enemy. For utility providers, customers are often the first to report outages, and they do it publicly on social media channels. With increasing regulatory pressure placed on customer satisfaction, utilities must meet performance metrics around customer happiness.
Vitens, a Netherlands-based supplier of drinking water, is typically notified by their customers when there are pressure, leakage or outage issues, leaving them one step behind problems. For utilities like this, the rise of big data is only the beginning of the revolution. As efficiency and delivery become even more crucial to providers’ ability to deliver resources to customers at a competitive price, they will turn to big data to improve existing business models to deliver utilities in a cost-effective way.
Bill McEvoy is an Industry Principal in the utilities group at OSIsoft.