SERI Predicts Improved Utilities of the Future

Data and analytics hold the key for many global industries facing a future with difficult obstacles and new opportunities. Few industries are facing challenges as significant as those in the energy and utilities field.

Today’s aging energy infrastructure isn’t just being battered by dramatic weather events. Increases in cyber attacks on the grid have skyrocketed – from 2012 to 2013, more than 53 percent of cyber attacks have been on energy installations.

Dr. Jonathan Pershing
“Energy demand is rising, but supply is dropping … and our aging infrastructure is vulnerable,” said Dr. Jonathon Pershing, the principal deputy director for the Office of Energy Policy and Systems Analysis at the US Department of Energy, who keynoted the second annual Smarter Energy Research Institute Conference at IBM Research, before more than 125 energy and utility experts from companies around the world

SERI was formed in 2012 with the goal of bringing together the world’s top energy and utility companies to build the energy utility of the future using data analytics. It pairs IBM’s open analytics toolkit platform of application-specific code with energy and utility companies’ ideas, needs and expertise to develop new software applications that solve their operational problems. At this year’s conference, Institute partners Alliander, Hydro-Québec, DTE Energy and IBM spent two days with representatives from 18 companies from around the world to learn how the big data analytics applications demonstrated at the conference can address these challenges.

In 2013, the US averaged 140 minutes per electrical outage, its highest rate in history.

In his keynote Pershing also pointed out that “50 percent of natural gas transmission infrastructure in the US was built between the 1940s-60s … and by 2030 the US will need to invest between $1.5 and $2 trillion in utility improvements.”

He said this comes at a time when more than 60 percent of those working in this industry are likely to retire in the next decade. As part of Pershing’s role with the DOE, he is leading their Quadrennial Energy Review Project, a four year effort to improve the country’s energy production, generation, supply and demand, and entire value chain. And he’ll count on the innovation of groups such as SERI to deliver solutions to these needs.

Predictive Analytics: Energy solutions through smart software

Every country faces similar energy challenges. DTE Energy, Alliander, and Hydro-Québec are using software – big data analytics – to better understand and solve these challenges.

Take weather prediction. Data, and lots of it, is behind the collaborative project Outage Prediction Response Optimization (OPRO) application, led by SERI partner DTE Energy. It is designed to predict weather and potential damage to the grid in order to help the utility optimize resources and prepare its response proactively. OPRO can predict where the storm will hit, down to one kilometer; who it will affect; and even utility service response times.

OPRO screenshot
The weather isn’t the only thing utilities need to predict. Grid maintenance costs in the US increased 42 percent between 2011 and 2012. Another DTE Energy-SERI project, Asset Risk Management and Optimized repair-rehab-replace (Armor^3), applies predictive and prescriptive analytics to grid data to quantify and optimize infrastructure maintenances planning for all electrical assets, including transformers, cables, poles, circuits, and more.

SERI partners are working on a handful of other applications that, among other things, use data to optimize the management and preservation of energy we depend on from all sources. Energy and utility companies interested in joining SERI can read more about how it’s building the utility of the future, and about some of the partners’ projects already underway.

This article is by Cody Frankel, a senior at the University of Rhode Island's Harrington School and intern with IBM Research Marketing and Communications.

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