How Valuable Data Can Change the Energy Landscape Status Quo

April 7, 2016 By Mike Carlson

Mike Carlson

I just had the opportunity to speak at the annual Energy Thought Summit, known as ETS, in Austin, TX. The city is known for its music, barbecue, but more recently, Austin is making its mark with its forward-thinking attitude toward technology and innovation. So, it’s fitting that it was in Austin where many of the power industry’s most innovative thinkers converged for a three-day conversation around how we can make the most of today’s energy opportunities while also planning for the future.

As I was thinking about what thoughts I might want to share at ETS, I recalled an article I read recently in the Harvard Business Review. It indicated companies waste 30 percent of the energy they consume. And it’s not for lack of technology. Most organizations don’t have the data and knowledge around their energy consumption, much less the expertise, tools and technology to manage it. 

Companies aren’t the only entities that remain siloed in their approach to energy. Utilities themselves are still working on ways to break down barriers so they can serve a shifting, changing market—in a recent survey only 38 percent of utilities indicated they have the ability to share data across their entire organization.

But, there is no doubt utilities want to be able to take advantage of the value data provides. The same survey showed that 47 percent strive to be digitally-driven organizations across every business unit. But, to be digitally-driven, they have to be agile.

There are what seems like a laundry list of catalysts and accelerators driving the evolution of our energy industry but we simply cannot address a 21st century energy landscape with the status quo. We must bring together our physical and virtual worlds to move the power industry into the next century and beyond.

So, how do we get there? We can start with a focus on the data we’re already collecting. Utilities collect vast amounts of data. We now have over 50 million smart meters gathering energy data across the U.S. In North America alone, utility spending on data analytics is expected to grow 29% each year, totaling over $2 billion this year.

We are in an era of unprecedented data collection. But the key word we need to focus on is “collection”. We need to be asking ourselves not are we collecting enough data, but are we collecting therightdata and more importantly, what do we do with it once collected. Obtaining data is the easy part – utilizing it is the challenge we must all step up to. 

What we must do as an industry is use technology that makes transforms data into valuable information and more importantly, leads to knowledgeable actions.

When we deployed our EnergyIP meter data management platform for JEA in Jacksonville, Florida, it allowed the utility to avoid 130,000 truck rolls and realize $1.6 million in savings in just a year and a half. We’re excited to announce this week that we’ll be deploying the same type of meter data management technology for ConEdison to help them intelligently manage new customer engagement initiatives. 

But value doesn’t just mean monetary returns, though it certainly helps justify some of the cost. Value can mean managing intermittent generation to provide reliable power for millions. Our software system in California is helping the California Independent System Operator do just this by intelligently managing renewable generation to meet energy needs across six states, analyzing exact power generation and demand on the grid every five minutes.

Value can mean satisfying end-users by keeping the lights on during extreme weather events. A new Distribution Feeder Automation System we designed specifically for ConEdison in Lower Manhattan splits grid networks during flooding so issues can be isolated and power remains flowing for more customers.

Value can mean embracing new energy models that reduce greenhouse gas emissions while improving reliability. Like at Blue Lake Rancheria, a Native American reservation that will use our microgrid management software to manage and control energy resources to deliver reliable power to the 100-acre reservation, operating on or off the grid in coordination with their local utility, Pacific Gas & Electric, and reduce an estimated 150 tons of carbon per year.

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