This week I had the privilege of speaking at the EnergyBiz Leadership Forum in DC. clip_image002

The panel I participated in discussed “Managing the Information Avalanche resulting from the injection of sensors, communications and software for the smart energy ecosystem.”

In preparing for the session I was reminded of those new Bing search commercials where someone asks a question and the other person starts spewing a lot of similar but unrelated information that’s outside the context of the current discussion. It’s a great way of demonstrating that there’s lots of data and lots of information overload out there, but where’s the real value, whether it’s personal or business related?

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There's no Moore's law that neatly summarizes the exponential growth curve that’s occurring with regard to the quantity of data that’s being produced by Power & Utility companies, especially as it relates to the digitization of the entire power system. Maybe someone should try to come up with one, to help everyone get their head around the Big Bang type explosion of data that’s occurring under our noses.

Regardless of what we call it, the real question is how an organization or individual goes about sorting through the new piles of information to make better decisions. It’s this sorting of the data that will create value, as power and utility companies go about increasing reliability and creating information that results in benefits to utility operations, customers and shareholders, all in a secure fashion.

If you look at what’s happening today we see information escalation:

- In generation as we move from a plant to a fleet mentality we are surfacing more information than ever, in forms that engineers, plant managers and CXOs could use to run the business better. As emissions constraints grow and fuel costs increase even more data will be created, ready for yet another conversion to useful information. We are working with partners such as Accenture, Alstom, OSIsoft and IHS to transform the plant and emissions data into information that positively impact operational efficiencies.

- As we grow renewables at scale there will be even more information that utilities will have to deal with in terms of balancing the bulk power system for these often disruptive (read intermittent and dispersed) generation sources. Here we are working with partners such as Alstom and Areva on the next generation scheduling and integration solutions between the diverse generation fleets and the bulk power system.

- Most will agree that the utility distribution system is ill-suited for the localized distributed generation and the wild card of Electric Vehicles will require a transformation of this infrastructure and accompanying information that utilities need to manage. This is one of the most interesting and maybe the biggest moving target but it is something that must be done. Our work with Areva and Telvent encompasses the leading edge thinking to solving these complex problems.

- In terms of smart metering we are all very familiar with the explosion of meter data that is being created as we move from monthly to, in some cases 15-minute data sampling that can result in petabyte data stores and meter data management system. Here we are working with partners like Itron on the scalability of these massive meter data warehouse stores and OSIsoft on how to use advanced technologies like complex event processing to filter through the mountain of information and trigger key processes and work flows related to smart metering.

- In terms of the sometimes controversial consumer connection and interaction the challenge will be not only making it easy but transparent and using the information to create products and services that the utility can use create the new customer connection and offer value-add to their customers. Certainly this is what our Microsoft Hohm effort is all about.

To be successful in the long run, our opinion is that utilities need to:

- Develop enterprise-wide data and information management strategies that meld both the businesses of information technologies (IT) and operational technology (OT)

- Put governance, risk management and compliance strategies in place to cover overall data management strategy and security posture for the enterprise.

- Create enterprise capabilities for data management, complex event processing, visualization and analytics.

Our customers are telling us they need to do more in managing the information avalanche they know is coming. Unfortunately, they are struggling to find the right approaches or to extend the approaches for the utility enterprise that covers both IT and OT. When asked about visualization and analytics the answer is yes! But there is uncertainty concerning the requirements for today as well as the requirements for tomorrow.

This has a lot to do with the fact that depending on what kind of utility you are and where you are located in the world your vision of this thing often called the “smart grid” is different.

Everyone needs to recognize that the platforms will change as well as the business processes and markets. Real changes are a moving target and with so much uncertainty, utilities need to have the right capabilities and the right tools in place to be successful. – Jon C. Arnold