So Much Data From Smart Meters, but Who Can Analyze It?

Source: By DIANE CARDWELL, New York Times • Posted: Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The rollout of smart meters, devices that can record and send reams of information on real-time electricity usage, has been anything but smooth. Customers have complained about inaccurate readings, being promised savings that never materialized, possible health hazards and threats to their privacy. But utilities have soldiered on.

They continue to install millions of the meters, saying that the data they provide helps them manage electrical load, pinpoint or avoid power losses, stabilize the grid and ease the integration of renewable forms of energy into the grid — all of which in theory will save customers money in the long run.

But all that information is more than the utilities can handle, according to a study released on Tuesday by the software company Oracle. Lacking the organizational structure and staff members with the analytical skills needed to handle the deluge of data, 45 percent of utility executives surveyed said they found it hard to get information to the right managers.

“Well, if you struggle to get it to your management, then you’re struggling to do much with it,” said Rodger Smith, senior vice president and general manager of Oracle Utilities. He said that 50 percent of the utilities reported having missed opportunities to get information to their customers. “Most utilities aren’t necessarily prepared either with the right people or the things to actually handle it.”

Oracle’s interest is in selling the kinds of data management software systems and services that Mr. Smith said utilities need.

The company surveyed 151 senior managers at North American utilities with some sort of smart meter program in place. Managers were asked to rate how prepared they were for the spread of smart meters, which have been creating exponentially more data.

On average, the utilities are collecting information on factors like usage, voltage and outages every four hours, in contrast to the old analog meters that were typically read just once a month.

The executives said they were somewhat prepared for the nascent smart grid, rating themselves 6.7 on a scale of 1 to 10. (The scale ranges from not at all prepared to completely prepared.) Still, the survey found a gap between how much information utilities collect and they actually use. Seventy-eight percent of the respondents said they collected data on power losses, but only 59 percent reported using it; 56 percent collected diagnostic data, but only 33 percent used it.

The survey found that the utilities see a need for improvement, with 64 percent saying that increasing their ability to use the data to guide strategy and actions was one of their top three priorities. The biggest challenge, they said, was overcoming the shortage of staff members with the skills to analyze it.