Big Data Technologies Innovation Is Driven by Utilities’ Needs
Big data technologies are rapidly evolving, and much of this technological innovation is coming from utilities, where big data is essential.
As a rule, utility companies have huge customer bases, and the data required to service and bill customers properly — identification, payment history, usage, preferences, etc. — can be enormous. To handle this volume of information, utilities need software that goes above and beyond simple spreadsheets. “We need database analytics to provide new tools for our associates,” Pacific Gas and Electric Senior Price President and CIO Karen Austin told Breaking Energy magazine. “Spreadsheets are now like tea cups in the big data world; if I’m going out for a swim in the big ocean I don’t want the tea cup anymore — I need scuba diving equipment.”
Big changes take big data
Austin should know: She was part of the Pacific Gas team that helped rebuild the San Francisco Bay Area grid after a violent earthquake shook the land in 1989. The company had to deal with increasing volumes of usage as well as build in disaster fail-safes, which led to an even larger amount of data added to an already huge set. Today, the state of California estimates that power use will continue to grow at a rapidly accelerating rate and that increased usage of alternative sources of energy will change the data landscape.
Austin has reacted by establishing two demand response programs with smart grid technology, using apps like Apache’s Hadoop, which is an open-source app that acts as a framework for massive datasets. Hadoop is compatible with almost any language and can be valuable for a variety of different user types. Other than utilities, Hadoop’s biggest users are Yahoo and Facebook — companies with datasets that are both gargantuan and valuable.
Not only is Pacific Gas leveraging their analytics to keep things running more smoothly, but the company claims to have saved 60 megawatts of power since implementation of its demand response programs.
Big data needs innovative solutions
Because utilities around the world are experiencing meteoric growth in their data needs, software makers have responded in turn with innovative solutions. Fuseforward Solutions Group is a Vancouver-based company that specializes in providing big data solutions to utilities across the globe. According to Chief Executive Mark Damm, utilities in many developing countries like India are seeing massive increases in both customers and use, which is often restricted by ancient grid systems.
But in places like South Africa, many utilities are also dealing with rapidly rising fuel prices and are looking primarily at reducing waste. For many utility clients in that country, Fuseforward has installed smart meters and other sensors with their biggest customers to detect and eliminate wasteful energy consumption. The amount of data collected is astronomical, and Fuseforward’s big data technologies help the South African utilities leverage their analytics to save energy and costs.
With large numbers of customers and broad data requirements, utilities and their suppliers are at the forefront of big data technology. But as data needs become more complicated and client bases are grown, everyone will eventually benefit from their innovation.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons
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