Tackling The Smart Meter Data Avalanche

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Utilities companies need to start thinking seriously about how to handle the influx of data from smart meters, says Teradata’s David Socha

Earlier this year, the UK government announced plans to deploy smart grids and energy meters to 26 million UK homes by 2020 – a project that the Department of Energy and Climate Change forecasts will cost the UK £9.2 billion.

While smart metering is an important step in Prime Minister David Cameron’s plan to make the coalition the “greenest government ever”, the utilities industry has a lot of preparation to do if it is to cope with the tsunami of data associated with these devices.

Smart meters record consumption of energy at intervals throughout the day and communicate this information back to the utility company via a smart network or grid. They have been promoted as a way for people to keep a close eye on the energy they are consuming, and cut down on waste.

Predicting the data flood

According to David Socha, utilities practice leader at Teradata, most utilities companies are now at the point where they realise that there is a lot of data headed their way. The difficulty, however, is predicting exactly how much data there will be and preparing for that.

“If you Google predictions on the amount of data the smart revolution is going to generate you will get 101 different answers,” said Socha, speaking to eWEEK Europe. “The reason it is so difficult to predict is that none of the variables have really been tied down.”

Socha explained that, although it is possible to predict the number of smart meters that will be deployed, there are several other variables that affect the amount of data that reaches the utility companies. These range from the number of telemetry devices on the grid to the amount of data utilities companies want and the frequency of readings.

“All those variables are available to confuse the number,” said Socha. “Even if your business and your business model has come up with a sketch of the kinds of data you would like to have, you then have the problem of socio-political involvement.

“People might call up and say, ‘I am sorry, that data is private, you’re not getting it’, or a government may say the same sort of thing, to be seen to be doing the will of the public. So all of these things add up to – there’s a huge amount of data coming but we don’t know how much it is. That is a very confusing place to be,” he added.

According to Socha, this is the biggest challenge that utility companies face today. While acknowledging that there are significant hurdles to overcome around engineering, IT and business processes to do with the transition to smart metering, he said that data management will be the biggest challenge because utilities companies have not had to deal with anything like this before.

“The utilities already have massive IT portfolios and therefore very strong relationships with all the IT vendors – and exactly the same could be say about business process change. Utilities companies have been through business process change before,” said Socha. “But utilities haven’t had overwhelming amounts of data before. Of course they have data, they have asset data, they have geospacial data. But they haven’t had the kinds of data volumes that retailers and telcos are used to dealing with.”

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