UK government and suppliers are currently rolling out smart meters with the goal of having one in every home by 2020. This shift in the market means energy companies will have a wealth of real-time data on how their customers consume power at their disposal, which will have significant benefits for both providers and consumers. Martin Dunlea, utilities industry strategy for Oracle EMEA and Ireland, explains
Extracting and sharing this data with departments across the business – from those monitoring the grid to field workers to customer-facing teams – is key to providing power companies with the insights to deliver better network management.
Access to real-time network and customer information makes asset management and troubleshooting activities more efficient, and ultimately helps utilities provide better services to customers. Dispatchers are able to deploy the right teams to the right jobs with ease, and with access to data on their phones field workers are better placed to resolve any issue they come across.
More efficient networks
Today’s distributors are under increasing pressure from consumers and regulators to manage issues such as increasing costs, integrating alternative energy into the grid and delivering power more efficiently. Delivering reliability and security, gaining return on capital expenditure, ensuring safety, and improving an aging infrastructure are just a few of the operational challenges they must address.
Smart meters provide power companies with the insights to deliver more efficient networks and make grid reliability and outage response more effective and transparent.
Nevertheless, a more intricate, interconnected network and constantly changing load dynamics mean distributors must make more decisions more quickly. This requires a much more sophisticated analysis than has traditionally been applied when managing energy networks.
Modern network analytics allow companies to better visualise how voltage is being distributed throughout their networks. The ability to quickly combine and analyse historic, real-time and even predictive data helps grid operators make better-informed decisions resulting in lower energy losses and reduced operating costs. This information helps distributors predict how individual transformers may fail in different scenarios based on their type, age, and network load, so that they can adjust their operations accordingly.
In an increasingly competitive market, data from smart grids will provide utilities with the intelligence to develop new ways of driving positive engagement among customers and informing them on the benefits smart meters will deliver.
Utilities must therefore ensure that they have technologies that enable consumers to manage both their energy usage and – just as importantly –the services they receive. As energy prices become less of a market differentiator, the range of services and payment options utilities offer will become more important factors affecting peoples’ decision to switch or stay with a provider.
Technologies that allow energy retailers to build a highly detailed and up-to-date picture of individuals’ usage can deliver more accurate predictive billing. This will go a long way in engaging an increasingly energy-conscious public that is keen to consume more economically and sustainably.
People today want more transparency from their energy providers and more flexibility in the way they pay for and consume energy. By analysing individual usage profiles, energy providers will also be able to offer customer-specific programmes that align with the unique preferences of each person they serve, which will in turn empower customers to consume intelligently on their own terms.
Obstacles to overcome
While the goal for utilities is to use data to improve network management and offer more individualised services to customers, there remain some obstacles to making this happen. Energy companies do not have visibility into consumption patterns, nor do they have direct relationships with end customers, which puts them at a disadvantage. The seamless flow of data between customers, retailers, and grid operators remains hampered by a lack of standardisation between different businesses and industries, and by the sheer volume of information now being generated.
The technology platforms used in the utilities sector will need to become open standards-based and agnostic of specific vendors if governments and utilities are to overcome this challenge. Additionally, players across the board will need to modernize their data analytics capabilities to effectively process the mountains of information at their disposal.
Concerns and legislation around data privacy will also need to be addressed. Customers must agree for their data to be shared in the first place, as utilities in the UK currently do not have access to this information. Utilities therefore need to start working today to build trust with their customers if they want to foster stronger customer relationships built on an open exchange of data.
The ongoing roll-out of smart meters across the UK is opening up new opportunities for utilities to change the way they manage energy. To add to this, we are now firmly in the digital age and making the most of smart meter data will be crucial to the modern utility. The country’s smart roll-out is still in its early stages, but once complete, smart meters will hold the key to better serve energy users today and in the coming years.
There is no better time for providers to use the technologies available to them to realize the untapped value in their businesses, improve network management and better support energy conscious customers.