The smart grid industry has many contenders -- from startups like AutoGrid, C3 Energy and Verdeeco, to corporate giants like IBM, Oracle, Siemens and General Electric -- that are seeking to master the flood of “big data” coming at utilities around the world. All are deeply involved in the utility information-sharing and testing stages of that process, and some are moving toward commercial-scale, big-data-ready products for the smart grid. 

Take the example of GE, which in January launched its Grid IQ Insight big data platform, meant to consolidate everything from existing grid management systems, smart meters and grid sensors to unstructured weather data and Facebook and Twitter feeds.

Since then, GE has told us how it’s working with utilities to prove the platform’s value, through “rapid deployment and prototyping” applications ranging from electric vehicle charging and distributed solar “hot spot” monitoring, to vegetation growth analysis to help utilities keep power lines clear of overhanging tree limbs.

Early this month, GE launched its “Innovative Utility Program,” featuring utilities including AEP and Indianapolis Power & Light, which it hopes to grow to a host of utility partners sharing insight and data.

In the meantime, GE is getting set to start releasing some “productized" analytics packages that build on this work in ways that can be applied to a broader set of utility customers, Brian Bradford, smart grid solutions product marketing director for GE Energy, said in an interview earlier this month.

Among the first, he said, will be a “meter insight” platform, built to take advantage of a massive source of as yet mostly untapped data: the tens of millions of smart meters and counting that are being deployed across the world.

“That will probably be the first formally productized analytic capability from Grid IQ Insight coming over the next few months,” Bradford said. It’s a move that takes advantage of GE’s expertise in a range of grid products, from transformers and substation gear to the software platforms that monitor and control the grid.

Because we have meters, because we have distribution software, because we have our smart meter operating software, we can understand the nuances of how that meter data works -- where it’s coming from, how it’s being processed,” he said.

Among the meter-based analytic functions GE is looking at are theft detection -- comparing meter data to substation and transformer sensor readings to pinpoint where power is being lost or stolen -- as well as using fifteen-minute interval meter reads for better load forecasting, he said. (Greentech Media will be focusing on big data analytics applications like these in depth at our upcoming Soft Grid 2013 conference on Oct. 1-2 in San Francisco.)

These are some of the same functions being promised by a host of parties involved in smart meters. Silver Spring Networks has its UtilityIQ suite of analytics, as do smart meter vendors such as Itron and Elster. Meter data management vendor eMeter has seen its analytics capabilities taken to a broader scale under the ownership of Siemens, which has also partnered with Teradata. Toshiba, which owns metering giant Landis+Gyr and MDM provider Ecologic Analytics, is working on similar capabilities.

There’s certainly room for improvement on getting the most out of smart meters. Most North American utilities are lagging on integrating metering data into grid and business operations, according to surveys conducted by Oracle -- another company that’s pushing into meter data analytics, as its acquisition of DataRaker last year attests.

It’s important to note that most of the millions of GE smart meters deployed to date contain networking equipment made and run by other vendors, such as Silver Spring Networks in the U.S., or Grid Net in Australia. “We’re completely agnostic, as far as we’re concerned,” as to which networking technology resides in the meters GE will be analyzing, he said.

At the same time, GE in January launched its own Smart Metering Operations Suite (SMOS), which it describes as “a complete meter, data and transaction management system,” along with its first smart metering networking offering in partnership with startup On-Ramp Wireless.

GE has also forged its own big data partnerships over the years, including work conducted with C3 Energy. In April, GE invested $105 million in Pivotal, a VMware and EMC spinoff that’s developing a cloud-based data analytics platform, though it’s unclear how that partnership may be influencing GE’s Grid IQ Insight work.

“We’ve been working with a bunch of partners over the past two years,” Bradford said. “It’s kind of like a dating process: you meet, you figure it out, you see if you complement each other -- or will be competing with each other.”

Indeed, all of these big data contenders are piloting with utilities not only to forge relationships that could lead to bigger contracts in the future, but also to build their own storehouses of data and industry use cases. “One of the big challenges we’re going to have in analytics is, who can build the biggest analytics library, the fastest,” Bradford said.


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