Texas Utility Oncor Launches Smart Grid Project with IBM

by   |   November 6, 2012 2:09 pm   |   0 Comments

The largest electric delivery company in Texas is turning to big data to help it manage a power grid that provides energy to more than 3 million homes and businesses in the Lone Star State.

Oncor Electric Delivery on Nov. 5 announced an ongoing smart grid project with IBM designed to monitor in real-time the company’s more than 118,000 miles of transmission and distribution lines, giving it the ability to detect and respond to power failures more quickly and to deliver energy more efficiently.

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Run in conjunction with IBM partners Ecologic Analytics and meter maker Landis+Gyr, the project enables Oncor to get precise data regarding a number of devices and systems in its grid, from generation plants and power lines down through transmission sensors, networking devices and advanced meters, the company says.

Oncor also says the smart grid project, launched earlier this year, provides an interactive Web portal for customers to manage their power consumption, allowing them to see in near real-time how much electricity they consume during the course of a day and which household appliances and devices are the biggest energy uses.

“We want to take the lead in our industry on bringing the benefits of the advanced grid, including fewer outages and more customer control over bills, to the people we serve,” Joel Austin, vice president and chief information officer of Oncor, said in a statement.

The ability of a utility to react to power outages is about more than keeping customers happy. In some cases, it’s a matter of life and death. Heat waves over the past two summers have killed dozens of people across the U.S., including a number in Texas, which in 2011 had the hottest summer ever recorded in the country.

Further, the National Energy Technology Laboratory estimates that power outages cost the U.S. economy $100 billion a year on average.

The rise of smart grids—which leverage information technology to monitor performance and anticipate usage patterns—has created an unprecedented volume of data for utility companies to harness and comprehend. IBM predicts smart grid technology will be a $43.3 billion business by 2020, up from $4.9 billion in 2011.

“The push to tear down traditional business silos and spread advanced analytics across the utility is putting significant pressure on utilities to manage the flood of data they’re swimming around in, and figure out how to put analytics in the hands of nearly every employee,” says H. Christine Richards, director of knowledge services for Energy Central’s Utility Analytics Institute.

The sixth-largest electric delivery company in the U.S., Oncor services customers in the Dallas and Fort Worth region as well as other parts of the state. Oncor is building out a network of advanced meters and expects to have 3.2 million in place by year’s end.

Oncor says its smart grid’s outage management system—which is integrated with the company’s advanced metering system—reports power outages so quickly that of more than 1,400 notifications automatically received in March and April of this year, better than half “resulted in the outage being restored before a customer reported it.”

Beyond rapid response to outages, Oncor’s project should help the company interpret energy usage data to anticipate future demand. “With the influx of real-time smart grid and smart meter data, utilities are moving toward predictive analytics that leverage real and near-real-time data,” Richards says.

But movement is coming slowly, according to an Oracle survey of North American utility executives conducted last April. Nearly half of the respondents said their utilities “still struggle to report information to business managers as fast as they need it and 50% miss opportunities to deliver useful information to customers.”

“Although utilities are leveraging more real-time information,” Richards says, “they are still in the early phases of grid optimization.”

Christopher Nerney (cnerney@nerney.net) is a freelance writer in upstate New York. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisNerney

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