While the pace of smart meter deployments is rapidly increasing worldwide, utilities and especially grid operators are facing “a perfect storm” that could change the very core of their current and future operations.
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Until now, the use of smart meter data in grid operations to deal with these challenges has been mainly hypothetical. However, this is about to change.
The Impact of Smart Metering
Three years ago, Accenture launched a comprehensive report named the Digitally Enabled Grid. The report discussed the impact of smart metering at utilities and the potential ways of extracting digital value from it. Then, one of the key statements was that smart meters could introduce revolutionary changes in grid operations, but that the process of achieving business value is more likely to be evolutionary. As it turns out, the installed base of smart meters worldwide has already increased by almost 20 percent during the last three years. And more meters means more data. Soon, the amount of data will reach a virtual tipping point that will finally enable utilities to counter the challenges they face today using smart meter data. Could this be the first step in the smart meter revolution?
A Perfect Storm That’s Shaking up the Business
So, what challenges do utilities face? A simple question that leads to numerous answers. The increase in local and renewable energy production is always a safe bet; changing legislations and aging assets are also commonly seen as game changers within the utility industry. Most importantly, we’re expecting a new digital energy ecosystem that will impact every utility and customer on this planet at some point. Currently, there are over 5 million households with solar photovoltaics worldwide and costs of battery storage have declined with 41% in the last decade. This means the way electricity and gas is generated, sold, distributed and delivered is rapidly changing. Does this radically change our daily lives already? No. But do we see the first symptoms of the ongoing change? For sure. Did you notice for example that you have to reset the timer on your microwave or old fashioned alarm clock more often?
5 Ways to Apply Smart Meter Data
Being surrounded by Asset Managers, Grid Operators, Smart Metering Specialists and Field Workers every day, we realized that smart meter data could be the answer to these challenges. And, since we will hit the tipping point of smart meter data soon, we see the opportunity to finally meet these challenges using smart meter data. Based on the current state of pilot projects and implementations at our clients, we therefore suggest 5 applications of smart meter data that every utility and especially grid operators should at least consider.
- Assess Power Quality
The patterns in energy production and consumption are changing, which leads to fluctuations in the quality of electricity that is delivered to every customer. A big problem, as electrical systems and devices at every industry or household require electricity to be delivered with a certain frequency. Fluctuations can lead to premature malfunctioning or complete failure. Using smart meter data, grid operators are able to monitor and control the quality of the electricity at every point in the network, up until the lowest level. Based on this information, Asset Managers are better able to invest effectively in their network, ensuring a constant high quality of energy delivery. In addition, smart meter data can be used to investigate customer claims that result from these fluctuations, saving significant time and effort of field workers that have to personally investigate every claim.
- Forecast Renewable Energy
The production of renewable energy is increasing rapidly. For grid operators, this leads to two challenges. First, the supply of renewable energy is harder to predict due to changes in weather- and seasonal conditions. By combining time series data from smart meters and weather stations, the supply of renewable resources can be forecasted accurately. With the forecast, grid operators can stabilize the supply and quality of the power throughout the network and hence improve the distribution. Second, the quality of renewable energy is less predictable than traditional energy sources. Besides the voltage fluctuations mentioned earlier, issues also rise when large amounts of green gas are introduced in the grid. Since the grid operator is responsible for the quality of the delivered energy, a reliable forecast is essential in order to make the right operational- and investment decisions.
- Improve Outage Management
Probably the most commonly discussed application of smart meter data is to link it with outage management systems. Outage management systems assist grid operators in predicting, locating and restoring disturbances in the network. The use of smart meter data in locating disturbances has always been the highest possible goal of smart meter analytics. Outage notifications (last-gasp and restoration signals) can be combined with data from sectionalizing and reclosing systems to improve visibility of outage locations and the restoration progress. In addition, the system could proactively send customer notifications when electricity is out and provide alerts on restoration time and status updates. This is an enormous step forward compared to the current situation in which it is the customers usually inform the grid operators of new energy disturbances. In North America, utilities already use Twitter to communicate with customers. Combined with a smart meter powered outage management system, the communication is not only fast but also accurate.
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Koreatown Power Outage Update: problem has been isolated and crews continue to work. 114 remain w/o power. Thx for your patience! — LADWP (@LADWP) June 29, 2016
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- Protect and Detect
Every year, grid operators measure the total “loss” of energy they have transported or distributed. They calculate the total loss by measuring the difference between the total amount of energy that entered and exited the network. Losses can be divided into technical losses (due to energy transportation) and non-technical losses. The non-technical losses are mostly caused by customers who have tampered with their energy meters or have stolen energy. By combining data from smart meters and feeder meters, it is possible to create a comprehensive diversion-detection solution. The solution is capable of analyzing high amounts of energy usages. So, it can identify customers who may have tampered with the meter or that are stealing power. Furthermore, cases exist in which the solution has been integrated with a work management system. That way, grid operators can make sure the identified cases are investigated properly and resolved by the back-office of the utility.
- Future Market Developments
Above, we illustrated the changes that utilities and especially grid operators have to deal with. On the long term, the changes will also impact contemporary energy market models. We expect that localized balancing of production and consumption, flexible energy tariffs and even complete energy isolation of households will eventually also transform the way we pay for our energy. And, with the ongoing digitization of administrative and payment processes, the smart meter could suddenly become the center of every household or neighborhood for energy production and –consumption.
Escaping the Perfect Storm
We have seen utilities struggling with the applications of smart meter analytics during the last couple of years. However, we also see the first successful small-scale implementations that add significant value to the utility or grid operator and its customers. Therefore, we believe these transformations are the ultimate way of extracting value from smart meter data and can guide each utility or grid operator out of its perfect storm.