The Challenges of Big Data on the Smart Grid  

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Technology Review notes that “Installing "smart meters" and upgrading utility networks will force electricity providers to process far more information than they're accustomed to handling” - The Challenges of Big Data on the Smart Grid.

The average big electric utility is a sprawling network that is buzzing with energy but contains surprisingly little data about that energy. Managers at utilities can't "see" very deep into the thousands of substations and relay units that make up the electrical grid. Some utilities still learn about a neighborhood electrical outage not because it shows up on any of their sophisticated monitoring equipment, but because customers call them on the phone and complain that the power's out.

This paucity of real-time information is one of the challenges that utility companies and IT vendors are addressing with a modernization effort known as the "smart grid." Once utilities and consumers have finer-grained information about power use, both the supply of power and the demand for it can be managed more efficiently. For instance, consumers could be guided to move some electricity consumption to off-peak hours, reducing the need for dirtier and more expensive power plants to be activated at peak hours.

But before this can happen on a widespread basis, the utilities need to prepare for an onslaught of data—as other industries have done. The challenge of upgrading IT systems accordingly is one of the reasons the smart grid is "in its infancy," says Donald Kintner Jr., a spokesman for the utility-sponsored Electric Power Research Institute.

"What energy companies are about to experience isn't simply a doubling or tripling of the amount of data they will be getting," says Jeff Taft, who works on smart-grid efforts at Cisco Systems, the networking company. "Instead, it's going to be an increase of multiple orders of magnitude. The industry knows this and is slowly making the transition. But energy is one of those areas where you can't just rip everything out and start all over."

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