• HigherGround

Big Data Management and Storage for Utility Companies

Updated: May 23, 2019

By Licia Wolf

Many U.S. utility companies are experiencing aging infrastructure and outdated technologies, and are operating on a system from the mid-1900s. Electrical grids, urban water systems, and natural gas pipelines were built when populations were smaller and resource limitation was not a consideration. Today, this presents several problems that affect cost, service, efficiency, resource use, and the environment:

  1. Decrepit wiring, pipes, and meters that break down and need replacement.

  2. Manual meter reading is inefficient.

  3. Data collection has traditionally been one-way: measuring the delivery of water, gas, or electricity to the customer.

  4. Very little preventative maintenance.

  5. Huge inefficiencies in resource storage and service – wasted resources, service interruption, environmental impact.

Other factors driving utilities toward reforming their infrastructure are government regulations and changes in public policy requiring integration of renewable energy and reduced pollutants. Utilizing green energy is also in demand from customers, and many power companies are adding solar and wind-powered energy to their sources. Building these systems may be costly but necessary, and it requires extensive strategic planning while maintaining affordability for customers. Moving Toward a Multi-Way Communications Model The ability to deliver power to customers using efficient and green technology means development of a smart grid - an electricity supply network that uses digital communications technology to detect and react to local changes in usage. This involves equipment upgrades, and use of sensors/monitors throughout the network that send data about usage, electrical flow, and equipment health. Utilities will not only monitor what goes out to the customer, but can capture data coming in. Networked devices in the grid also communicate with each other to coordinate appropriate responses. Examples of smart monitors include:

  1. Smart meter, which can automatically be read every hour or more.

  2. Electricity flowing through the line and its phase is monitored by a synchrophasor.

  3. Line fault detector, which monitors if there are any faults in the line.

Water utilities are beginning to implement smart solutions that can manage peak load, analyze leakage, energy efficiency, and, customer segmentation. Using cloud-based services and information storage, tech companies are developing systems that allow utilities to migrate their infrastructure into a smart system. Data is not only captured directly from the equipment, but also engages customers with mobile apps and collects data from the utility’s mobile work force. How will the Restructuring be Funded? The Grid Modernization Laboratory Consortium and Smart Grid Investment Grant are government programs that are helping fund this new infrastructure. Some utility companies, such as Florida Power & Light, and Georgia’s Tri-State Electric Membership Corporation have already made significant improvements with help from this funding. Information Storage and Management Once on a Smart System, utility companies will be amassing a large volume of data, which requires strategic management and storage. For each data point/event, the associated metadata is needed to tell the story, e.g., location of the monitor device, data intake source (mobile device, direct from a sensor), time of day, temperature, etc. An important aspect of managing all these data is to understand what information is essential and what can be discarded. Currently utilities retain all their data, but with the accumulation of Big Data, this will become impractical. Storing so much data can be costly and inefficient, even with cloud-based solutions, so a selective storage strategy is necessary. Utilizing robust information capture, storage, and interaction analytics applications, such as Calibre, is paramount for automating this process. Once data is organized, advanced analytics can be applied to define use cases and implement systems for preventative management, real-time alerts to oversee load management, and long-term planning for maintenance and system upgrades. This will result in greater reliability, improved efficiency, and reduced costs.

About the Author - Licia Wolf, highly-educated with a Ph.D., is the Marketing and Communications Manager at HigherGround, with background in electronics, internet marketing, and print/imaging technology. Click here for more information on the rest of the HigherGround team!

HigherGround, Inc. provides best-in-class, reliable data capture and interaction storage solutions that enable clients to easily retrieve critical information. Our interaction recording and incident reconstruction solutions transform data into actionable intelligence, allowing optimization of operations, enhanced performance, and cost reduction.

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