Mar 30 2020

How Analytics Can Power the Modern Utility

From devices to customers, data analytics is key to keeping critical infrastructure operational.

Data analytics is everywhere. No longer an exciting newcomer to the IT stage, data components are baked into platforms and software with regularity, allowing businesses to get the most out of the information available to them.

This is especially true for utilities, which have a multitude of devices to keep track of while serving a huge number of customers who rely on their product to work properly. And as grids become more complex with the addition of renewable energy, data analytics plays a crucial role in keeping everything in check.

Keeping track of how much energy is used when, and by whom, can n­­ot only save a utility money, but also keep much-relied-on services running. Operational efficiency isn’t a luxury for utilities, but rather a necessity to maintain critical infrastructure. 

Predictive Analytics Can Help Prevent Outages

Big Data has swept through the global economy, tr­ansforming industry leaders into amateur statisticians tracking every possible piece of information. While that data collection is important, it’s not worth much if it can’t be put to work. 

That’s why businesses are turning to predictive analytics, which takes data and uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to forecast outcomes. For utilities, this modeling can predict surges in power use and distribution, allowing organizations to properly account for it and ultimately avoid outages. 

"The unprecedented interconnectedness of systems and available computational power through the cloud are allowing new systemwide data analytics applications," Jeff Ressler, executive director of Clean Power Research, told Utility Dive.

Using Analytics to Segment Customers Can Drive Satisfaction

Energy production and maintenance aren’t the only areas that can be improved with analytics, customer service can be as well. Utilities have been looking to other industries for new ways to keep their customers satisfied and found one in a surprising source: Netflix.

The streaming service practices what it calls “clustering,” or grouping together customers that have expressed similar interests in products. This allows them to target a narrower group that might be interested in a particular product instead of casting a wide net over all of its users. It’s one of three Netflix practices that have been adopted. 

MORE FROM BIZTECH: Learn the steps utilities can take to keep their devices healthy.

While for Netflix, clustering means analyzing viewing preferences, for utilities, it means looking at usage patterns or preferred sources of energy.

"For utilities that want to promote smart technologies that shift usage, lower peak demand and lower customer costs, what works is targeting specific customer segments with offerings that address their motivations," Nathan Shannon, deputy director of the Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative, told Utility Dive.

Asset Analytics Can Track Utilization and Devices

Utilities have a swath of devices to keep track of at any given time. From meters to sensors, there is a lot of equipment that needs to be monitored, maintained and repaired if need be. Asset-based analytics systems can put all of this information in one place, in real time.

This allows utilities to know when a device is losing power, disconnecting, or has other issues, as it’s happening. The problem can then be fixed in a timely manner, with minimal downtime for customers. This can also be combined with predictive analytics to know when a device is likely to need maintenance or if it’s about to be overloaded. This knowledge is, quite literally, power, as it allows for continued service.

Whether it’s monitoring physical devices, customer needs or product distribution, utilities can use analytics to keep operations running smoothly. As organizations deploy more high-tech IoT devices and utilize customer insights, harnessing analytics will be key to getting the most out of every data point.

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