Mike Ballard, Oracle EMEA
There is near-consensus in the UK that smart grids and smart meters will substantially advance the way energy networks operate in the coming years. According to a recent report, more than two-thirds of utilities executives expect the benefits of the smart grid to actually be greater than the industry’s original expectations.
Despite this, however, the success of the smart meter roll-out will depend in large part on the extent to which utilities are permitted to collect, process, and manage the valuable data that smart devices will generate once next generation networks are up and running. The rules governing utility companies’ access to smart meter data in the UK have not yet been finalized. As things stand today, energy providers will not automatically gain access to customer consumption data as businesses and households will have the option to opt out of sharing this information with their utilities.
Despite this uncertainty, energy utilities are investing heavily in smart meter technology as they prepare for the next phase of energy management. DECC and Ofgem highlighted the extent to which the industry will need to modernize in their latest smart grid “routemap,” stating that “to realize the full potential of smart grids, the entire electricity system including transmission and distribution networks, the system operator, suppliers, generators, and consumers and markets will need to evolve.” (See Figure 1)
Click image to enlarge
Figure 1: To realize the full potential of smart grids, the entire electricity system must evolve
When implemented effectively, smart meters will give way to new levels of energy savings and sustainability. Once this technology is in place, energy users will gain a more complete vision of their consumption behavior, and consequently gain a deeper understanding of how, when and why they consume. Data will be the driving force behind a successful smart meter roll-out. Insight from data analytics will help utilities raise their engagement with today’s energy-conscious public, and as a result drive more intelligent energy use across the board.
With these additional data points, network operators will also be able to automate and develop more comprehensive control over their networks, and therefore help reduce the risk of outages in case of extreme weather conditions or spikes in demand.
Energy users will benefit from the analysis of smart meter data by gaining up-to-the-minute insight into their energy use. With real-time consumption information displayed directly in their homes, they can immediately see how much energy – and therefore money – is being consumed. They can better understand how much is being wasted by inefficient appliances or those left running unnecessarily. This awareness will result in a more engaged consumer and help people change their consumption behavior for the better (see Figure 2).
Click image to enlarge
Figure 2: With real-time consumption information users can immediately see how much energy – and therefore money – is being consumed
Smart meters can also help utilities develop more customer-centric services for the people they serve. By analyzing home usage profiles, for example, energy providers can offer their customers specific services and billing structures that align with their individual preferences. This helps energy users ensure they are benefiting fully when they modify their consumption patterns.
For retailers, improved energy usage insight will allow them to deliver more accurate predictive billing to consumers, who in turn will be able to better anticipate their spending and budget accordingly. In this way, smart meters will bring customers closer to their energy providers and help them take a more granular, cost-driven approach to managing their consumption.
Finally, these meters will result in improved billing accuracy and greater transparency. Customers will benefit from improved service and spend less time on the phone dealing with discrepancies or billing issues.
Data at the core of it all
At the core of smart meter technology lies the near-instantaneous analysis of large amounts of metering data across the network. It is with this information that energy providers are able to work towards improving network conditions, automating network management, and ultimately offering customers the more individualized services they have come to expect.
Data analytics opens the door to exceptional levels of network automation, which means customers can benefit from more accurate, up-to-the minute billing. From a sustainability standpoint, this means that their utilities will work behind the scenes to develop solutions that reward energy users for their conservation efforts and for shifting their usage patterns to help offset peak consumption periods.
Simplifying network management
As dynamic, intricately connected webs, modern energy networks present unique engineering and safety challenges that make them particularly complex to manage. Often troubleshooting works carried out at one point of the network may resolve a localized issue, but can redirect flow to other points on the grid and put enough pressure on those areas to cause new problems. This “moving fault” can become particularly dangerous during major weather events.
Even during periods of normal operation, the analysis of smart meters can help utilities take advantage of these widespread data points to gain a better vision of how stably electricity is being distributed throughout their networks. With this information, they can spot warning signs for problems and take pre-emptive steps.
Each building on the smart grid can therefore contribute valuable data to energy providers that will help them optimize flow across their networks, and in turn help them better manage these in the case of precarious network conditions. To give them even more control over their networks, real-time data analysis applied to information collected from smart meters can be used to develop live visualizations of network status, which energy distributors can use to spot outages more quickly and manage them more efficiently.
Fully exploiting the frequency and granularity of smart meter grid data will also enable network operators to improve their forecasting capabilities. Combining seasonal data with detailed historical usage, asset information and historic events, utility distributors can make accurate predictions about future network infrastructure failures and energy demand. This insight allows network operators to target investment in maintenance and capacity improvements to maximize performance results.
The next wave of utilities infrastructure
The global call for a new approach to energy distribution and management has been answered by smart meters. These devices, and the data they will generate for utilities, have the potential to redefine how power is generated, how it is transmitted, and how it is measured. At the same time, smart meters will fundamentally change the relationship between people and energy as they look to adopt more sustainable usage habits and lower their costs.
Once harnessed and converted into actionable insights, the information at the heart of the new grid will give energy experts the insight they will need to better manage consumption in the digital era and spearhead the drive for a more informed, sustainable energy use.
Accenture, Digitally Enabled Grid, November 2013
Smart Grid Vision and Routemap, DECC and Ofgem, February 2014