Information Overload A Major Utility Issue Too

You hear a lot about information overload these days.  We are bombarded by information; news, advertisements, music, noise, it’s everywhere.  Mankind’s common knowledge base is expanding exponentially, though there is some question whether wisdom is keeping up.


Utilities face the same problem.  With the advent of a host of computerized systems–automatic meter reading just being the latest–utility personnel now are drowning in data and information.  Of course, a lot of that data is just going into storage which is an expensive waste of servers as well as opportunity.


If utilities of all size would embrace advanced analytics, they would be able to mine all that data–that information overload–for nuggets of information that would enable them to deal with the rapidly changing utility environment.  The information overload isn’t going away, it’s time to deal with it.

–Warren B. Causey

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Renewable Energy Definitely Needs Analyzing

It seems that the Obama administration, through the EPA, is determined to basically drive coal out of the mix for electricity generation in the U.S.  The latest EPA rules allow the building of new coal-fired plants if they meet certain emission standards.  Those standards are impossible with currently available technology.  How’s that for a Catch 22?

"Klimakiller" Braunkohle erlebt Renaissance

With natural gas picking up some of the slack, the question is how long before the EPA finds gas emissions too high?  Obviously this administration is determined to push wind and solar, exclusive of much else.  The major question is will it work?  Already Germany is finding it isn’t working real well and they have been ahead of the U.S. in acquiring and implementing renewable energy sources.  As could have been expected, renewable energy isn’t available when it is needed and coal and gas are left having to pick up the slack there.  You can read about the German problems in an English translation of Germany’s highly respected Der Spiegel magazine here.


Fortunately, advanced analytics will enable U.S. utilities to track what is working, what isn’t, and by what margins.  Whether that will be enough is doubtful, but bringing the best tools to the issue will help.

–Warren B. Causey

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U.S. Electrical Grid Still Very Vulnerable To Cyber Attack

There is an excellent article concerning the vulnerability of the U.S. electric grid to cyber-attack, especially from Iran, on Utility Dive; it’s available here.  The article quotes Joe Weiss, a well known utility expert who previously worked with EPRI (Electric Power Research Institute) and other organizations.


Weiss maintains something I have been told by many other utility experts that the NERC-CIP regulations are a paperwork exercise that actually do very little to protect the grid from hacking.  Weiss says Iran has the capability–and it may have the inclination one day–to hack into the U.S. grid’s control systems and create cascading failures to bring the grid down.  That’s the same thing I was being told by utility experts when at one point I was co-hosting a webcast series on NERC-CIP.


Yes, utilities have made strides in making the grid more resistant to hacking.  However, Weiss says, and many other experts I have spoken with agree, that grid security is nowhere near where it should be.  In fact, it may be virtually impossible to secure it thoroughly from cyber attack.  Further, look around you at how many substations sit is unguarded areas, vulnerable to physical attack.


Grid security is an area to which advanced analytics should be applied thoroughly and immediately.  There are just too many vulnerabilities that probably haven’t even been catalogued as yet.  This is an area crying out for advanced analytical work on a nationwide basis.

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Visualization Is An Important Part Of Utility Analytics

According to a recent survey of utilities in the U.S., only about 50 percent feel they are ready to mine the massive troves of data that automated metering and other technical advances have created for them.  In a similar study conducted five years ago, 75 percent thought they would be ready by now.


That’s a serious lag in terms of catching up with the new world of advanced analytics, which they’ve been thrust into with the advent of advanced metering infrastructure and other technology.  Utilities now have increasing numbers of sensors on the grid and even reaching into the homes of their residential customers.  But they are not taking full advantage of that mass of data to tune their systems and their approaches to customers.


A similar survey found that utilities also have difficulty identifying, hiring and making good use of individuals with analytics expertise.  These are two problems they must overcome if they are to survive in the brave new world of alternative energy, power plant closures, carbon restraints, etc.  It’s past time for them to do some catching up.


One of the most important aspects of that catch-up effort is visualization of data.  The day when spreadsheets and their graphics would get the job done are over.  Modern advanced analytics enable them to view key performance indicators–constantly updated by the underlying data.  That’s where they need to be to face the uncertain future.  By their own responses to the survey mentioned above, they’re falling behind their own goals in the area.


Warren B. Causey

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Interoperability An Important Issue In Public Safety & Utilities

I’m not sure how bad it remains, but most people don’t realize that many–perhaps the majority–of public safety (police, fire, medical) radio systems are not compatible with one another.  In other words, as I know has happened many times, when one county’s law enforcement reaches a county line, perhaps in pursuit, their radios are not compatible with the next county over.  In those situations the officers have to have their dispatcher call the dispatcher in the next county and relay information.  That’s not a very efficient or effective manner of dealing with emergency situations.


Utilities also face a similar situation in major storms when they usually dispatch crews to affected areas to help with power restoration.  Often the utility has to issue radios to the volunteer crews, or find some other way of communicating–cell phones help, but are too slow for emergencies.


Various radio manufacturers and others have banded together to address this situation and it is getting better, but there still is a long way to go.  How far remains will be the topic of an Urgent Communications webinar on Sept 25 at 2 p.m. ET.  More information about the webinar and registration is available here.


I’m not sure what advanced analytics have been brought to bear on this issue so far, but it’s a problem begging for thorough analysis.  To date all I’ve seen are guestimates of how big the problem really is.  It’s past time for advanced analytics to be applied here.

–Warren B. Causey

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Check Out The Latest Utility White Paper

Are you extracting the most Smart Meter Value?

Are you extracting the most Smart Meter Value?

Take a look at our latest Utility Industry White Paper by Warren B. Causey on behalf of Metro Resources!  The title is Revolutionize Customer Service with Smart Meter Value The Utility Analytics Data Serviceand discusses the use of Customer Segmentation and Energy Counseling to extract the most out of your Smart Meter investments.

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Analytics Doesn’t Have To Be Staff-Intensive

How many people do you need to do your reporting?

How many people do you need to do your reporting?

Utilities always have been asset and staff-intensive organizations; their assets are poles and wires, transformers, substations, generating plants, and many other pieces of equipment out in the field; and all of this equipment requires skilled staff to function properly.  A few years ago, a lot of people were concerned that an entire generation of utility workers was nearing retirement age.  With the near-collapse of the economy making jobs scarce, utilities haven’t had the problem they thought they would, and they also have learned the advantages of outsourcing.


As new technology comes along, particularly advanced analytics and business intelligence (AA/BI) systems, some utilities are concerned about how they will staff these new technologies.  The answer is that they don’t have to be staff-intensive; there are outsourcing arrangements with AA/BI firms that can be made with industry-specific companies, particularly Metro Resources Inc., who have been sponsors of this blog and its subsequent social media avenues for quite a while.


A smaller utility would do well to consider one full-time staff person internally and putting the rest of its staffing, as well as its AA/BI software, into the cloud.  The advantages are considerable when it comes payroll time and you can have experienced, knowledgeable personnel working your AA/BI.

–Warren B. Causey

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