Big Data From Smart Grid Tells Utilities More Than They Want To Know

Second of two parts. Read part one here.
If you're an electricity thief, watch out for the Smart Grid.
"Utilities have been using the Smart Grid data to find all kinds of creative ways that people have been stealing electricity," said Mel Gehrs, a Smart Grid expert with Silver Springs Networks, yesterday at The Great Lakes Symposium on Smart Grid and the New Energy Economy hosted by the Illinois Institute of Technology.
"That's by far the easiest (use of the Smart Grid) to monetize. I think ComEd said in 2011 their theft alone was over $60 million."
But for the most part, utilities have yet to realize the potential of the flood of new data that has begun flowing to them from the power grid, panelists agreed. And in some cases, they may not welcome it.
"Smart Grid data is beginning to give us a view of what the customer is actually experiencing, something that we've never ever seen before," Gehrs said. "Now we'll tell you that some utilities are not thrilled to know this, because it's kind of a two-edged sword, because then you have to go out and fix it if it's bad.
"So there's an important paradigm in big data. Be careful what you come up with. It may not be as well received as you might think."
For example, utilities are now able to document the power loss on lines that leave the substations and head to homes and businesses. Sometimes, that data could prompt expensive upgrades or redesigns.
When utilities don't undertake those efforts voluntarily, they may here from the North Americans Electric Reliability Corporation.
"There are tons and tons of problems out there, so what are the big fish, what are the things that we need to work on first?" asked Jessica Bian, the director of performance analysis for NERC. "We use the data to identify the big fish and then we work on a solution to fix the big fish. To me that's where big data helps us."
Gehrs described other uses of big data that utilities have already embraced:
Outage Response: Instead of waiting for customers to report outages, utilities now receive reports from the grid itself. That can be especially useful in the middle of the night, Gehrs said, when customers may sleep through an outage. The Smart Grid can report the outage, document its recovery in real-time and isolate locations of physical damage.
Renewables Reliability: The Smart Grid has helped utilities better understand when they can depend on power from solar facilities distributed throughout the grid. Many homes have solar panels in Hawaii, for example, where Smart Grid data helped narrow expectations for solar performance. "Even though the sunlight is from 7:00 to 7:00, the generation is much narrower than that," Gehr said. "It's around noon that they get a lot of generation. By about 4:00 p.m., the sun angle is so low in the sky relative to the roof angle that you don't get nearly as much generation as you might think."
Forecasting: When Oak Park, IL was considering installing LED street lights, Gehrs was able to use Smart Grid data to document where those new installations could plut into and communicate with the existing Smart Grid.
"I feel every day like I'm wrestling this big data to the ground, and I've got to wrestle it in a way that people understand it." Gehrs explains the Smart Grid in this video:
To understand how big is big data, read part one of this story: "Utilities Dumbstruck By Big Data From Smarter Grid"

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