The data impact of smart metering
Smart meters are the next generation of utility meters, giving consumers and energy companies much greater insight into electricity and gas usage.
They are primary examples of the much discussed 'Internet of Things'; the phrase to represent the increasing number of connected sensors built into everything. In fact, analyst firm Gartner predicts that there will be 26 billion connected devices by 2020.
Smart meters will empower consumers and utility companies alike by providing a much better view of how and when energy is used. This makes it easier to manage energy usage, offer new and innovative tariffs, balance load and energy purchasing, support micro-generation and increase market competition. However, there are some significant data implications for these new devices.
Currently most of us have a meter reading a few times a year. With smart meters, with a read of every half an hour, that adds up to 17,500 readings yearly. Using both gas and electricity, that figure doubles to 35,000 readings. Furthermore, smart meters can send extra information such as energy load at that point in time.
A report by telecoms firm Telefonica predicts the installations of 800 million smart meters by 2020. In the UK alone the government has pledged to have 53 million smart meters in 30 million homes and small businesses.
Even if each reading is just a few kilobytes of basic information, this quickly becomes a data explosion. Let's assume a reading is 10 kilobytes in size - when you multiply that by 17,500 readings, each smart meter is sending about 175 megabytes of data a year. Multiply that by 800 million meters and suddenly you have roughly 130 petabytes of new information for utility companies around the world to transmit, process, analyse and store every year.
As such, utilities need to ensure that they are prepared for the overflow of data that smart metering will bring. Not only will this place added load on networks, but if smart metering is going to be useful, that data needs to be evaluated.
But if data is gathered correctly, the idea of mass smart metering embodies great opportunities. It will allow utility firms to forecast energy usage, to improve their performance on the settlement markets – where money can be lost through inaccurate predictions – and to match supply and demand more closely.
Furthermore, smart meters make new trends like micro-generation from solar panels and wind turbines a much more viable proposition. Homes that create excess energy can feed this back into the network and this can be tracked closely. It also makes new methods of payment possible and allows a variety of new tariffs tied to demand and usage.
This is the Holy Grail for utilities. By offering tariffs that discourage consumption while supply is weak, and releasing stored energy expecting peaks in demand, investing into only maximum-demand level production can be avoided. It also supports the transition to alternative energy sources, such as wind, solar and tidal energy, which displays fluctuation in the power they provide.
Analytics and forecasting aren't new concepts for utility firms, but they have been used more or less exclusively on the operations and maintenance side of the industry. To reap the rewards that smart metering offers, it's clear that these tools require priority and stakeholders have to catch up with a lot of information.
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