Big Data, Big Problems

Editor in chief

Few people in my social circles, including my close friends and family, understand what I do for a living. They know I edit and write for magazines, and some know the magazines focus on electricity. But few know the difference between electricity generation and transmission and distribution–and even fewer care.

That’s probably why I was excited during vacation when I met a friend’s neighbor. Through small talk, I discovered she’s in charge of data warehousing at a large investor-owned utility. I told her about my job (and I’m disappointed she had never seen POWERGRID International magazine). I explained the magazine’s focus and that it covers most everything smart grid.

Her response surprised me.

“We don’t like smart grid.”

I suspected it’s because data collected through smart meters and other smart grid devices is filling up her data warehouse. I was right.

She said they–IT folks–don’t know what the utility wants them to do with all the data, and she doesn’t see much value in it. It has increased her workload and makes her job more difficult.

She also said her utility worked with a local contractor to create a smart home the public could tour to learn about smart metering and the utility’s smart grid program. Again, she doesn’t see the value, so she hasn’t taken the tour, she said.

I’ve heard many discussions about the need for utility IT and operations personnel to work together as devices are installed on the grid to collect more data. The article “Merging the IT and Operations Silos” beginning on Page 24 includes utility chief information officers’ comments on this topic.

And on Page 64, Ron Chebra of DNV KEMA Energy & Sustainability explores big data and asks what, when and how the data will be used. Those questions need to be answered where my friend’s neighbor works.

Her candid comments illustrate it’s time for utilities to address the massive amounts of data beginning to stream into their IT departments. In addition, utilities must determine which information is important and then inform and educate their IT personnel.

No one likes to be buried in work they don’t understand, especially when it seems less important than their other duties. Maybe the operations personnel at this woman’s utility should start the education process by passing along a copy of POWERGRID International.

To the Editor

Very good article in the June 2012 Power Grid International magazine. It is kind of funny how as a utility, we are always trying to stop unwanted people from getting into our substations, but many times we make it too easy for them. The picture on Page 14 of the magazine illustrates my thoughts. Someone conveniently put a dumpster next to the fence, making it easy for someone to climb over and get into the substation. Also, there is a ladder in the picture for them to climb back out. Maybe your next article for the magazine should be called “How Utilities are Shooting Themselves in the Foot.”

Alan F. Schweighart, Manager of Operations and Engineering
Eastern Illini Electric Cooperative

Editor’s response: The dumpster is for sure a security breach. The ladder in the photo, however, could belong to the crew working in the substation. We’re hoping they took it with them when they left. And good eye! That ladder is hard to spot.

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