Are utilities companies making the most out of their data?

Andy Calvert, Chief Technical Officer at UD Group, the intelligent software developer for the energy and utilities sector, questions whether the industry is yet taking full advantage to capitalise on the proliferation of Big Data.

Around this time last year, Microsoft and Accenture’s ‘Oil & Gas Digital Trends Survey’ acted to highlight the expected growth of Big Data in the energy sector. Looking ahead to the next three to five years, the survey predicted that “the majority of investments will shift to focus on Big Data/analytics and IoT”, with only 13% of the survey’s respondents feeling their company currently had fully mature analytics capabilities.

No surprises then that the juggernaut of Big Data will continue to transform the industry in the coming years. Indeed, the introduction of smart meters across the board can be seen as symbolic of the sector’s gradual and welcomed transition into the digital age.

Unfortunately, however, and certainly the view from outside the industry, the slow rollout of smart meters is equally symbolic of the sector as cumbersome and slow moving in its adoption of data analytics to improve services. Ofgem has previously accused the UK’s ‘Big Six’ of being too slow in rolling out smart meters to business customers, noting disappointment in the “overall performance of the majority of suppliers.”

While questions are being raised as to whether this initiative will be able to meet its 2020 deadline, smart meters aside, there are already a number other avenues within the industry where effective use of data analytics promises step change in the way we operate. The question is; rather than living up to the accusation of being too slow, are we fully capitalising on the current opportunities?

Capturing energy data in an effort to manage costs has long been the goal of consumers, however, capturing that same energy data can also empower asset managers and generators with the insight and foresight to help to boost productivity, improve efficiency and, most importantly, impact the bottom line.

Live Market Data

With the right platform, data can be extrapolated to track energy production directly against the income generated, for example, allowing rapid analysis of live market data. Establishing this vital link between these two sources of data is somewhat of a game-changer for the embedded generation industry and can become a catalyst for greater value and efficiencies. With this information at their fingertips, asset managers and generators can closely detail and track the financial benefits of their energy production, reconcile actual usage against forecast, and improve overall transparency. Furthermore, by combining operational and live market data, decision makers are able to respond quickly to rapidly changing market conditions.

Taking ownership of this data also grants generators with the ability to create detailed breakdowns of their financial revenues, allowing them to fully understand the variables among the different components of their energy production. This could include wholesale energy, ROCs, system benefits and Feed-In-Tariffs. Such itemised reporting will put generators and asset managers in the driving seat, allowing them to see problems before they actually occur and then take steps to improve results.

As we all know, energy data can be unwieldy. The transformational software industry is working hard to combat this by unlocking the data and presenting it in a way that cuts through to the pertinent nuggets. And the good news is that its simplicity that ultimately prevails.

The game-changers in the market are the software platforms that succeed in making this information accessible, intuitive, easy to integrate into current systems, and easy to use; it’s about making the complex simple.

The industry needs to embrace innovation through transformational software so that data can be leveraged in a more constructive way. Perhaps then, it is not becoming faster that’s required, but becoming smarter at being smart.

About the Author: Andy is Chief Technical Officer at intelligent software developer for the energy and utilities sector, UD Group, where he is responsible for overseeing the development of its disruptive software in the UK and internationally. He is an expert in data analytics, cloud and smart technology.