Big data's impact on utilities: from smart grid to soft grid

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By now you've likely heard of the smart grid, but it's unlikely very many outside of the utility and facility management industries have heard of the soft grid. Essentially big data added the soft aspect to the smart grid. The soft grid is a broad term encompassing big data management and analytics, utility systems and other IT tools and goals in the smart-grid-enabled-enterprise's goodie bag.

In case you haven't heard anything about the smart grid, beyond seeing that newfangled smart meter on the side of your home, it's a modern way of delivering electricity using computer-based remote control and automation to smooth delivery, reroute around troublesome areas, bill users more correctly, add communications and recover from problems much quicker. If you would like more detail than that general description, take a look at the energy.gov smart grid page.

Yes, that means the smart grid is part of the Internet of Things and, as such, it generates a huge amount of data. So much so that privacy advocates are up in arms about it. You can read more about privacy concerns in this National Geographic article.

But a post in GreenTechMedia assures us there is nothing to worry about since an Edison Foundation report (.pdf) says smart meters deliver 1 billion data points daily from a mere 40 percent of American households so equipped, however most utilities aren't doing much with all that data.

Just in case you are wondering, smart meters are latching onto commercial buildings and other structures too, so expect that number of daily data points to skyrocket shortly.

Enter the soft grid to make sense of all of that and integrate utility systems as well for immediate action on the big data findings.

"GTM Research has pegged the value of the global utility data analytics market at a cumulative $20 billion between 2013 and 2020," reads another GTM post. "Beyond the technical issues involved in renovating or replacing legacy utility IT systems to manage and optimize the flood of new data coming at utilities, there are also regulatory and internal business-as-usual roadblocks to overcome, if all this disparate data is to be captured, analyzed and converted into business value."

GTM, by the way, is holding a conference on the soft grid at Pacific Gas & Electric headquarters in San Francisco on October 1-2 should you be inclined to hear more from the analysts and several utilities including Tennessee Valley Authority, Duke Energy, Ameren and host PG&E.

In any event, consider this a heads-up on the next IT challenge. Not that energy costs haven't always been a corporate concern, but now it is moving into IT's wheelhouse as a means to control utility costs and gather additional data points for sundry reasons.

For now it's mostly a big data headache for the utility companies and they have a long way to go before they can call it mastered.

For more:
- see the Energy.com website page
- see the National Geographic article
- see the GreenTechMedia post
- see the second GreenTechMedia post
- see the Edison Foundation report (.pdf)

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