How Data Analytics are Paving the way to Smarter Cities

By Brian Crow, Sensus

As technology gets smarter, our cities will too. This is especially true for the public services sector. From electricity, water and gas utilities to transportation and municipal lighting systems, cities of all sizes have systems that rely on each other.

Data is the key to unlocking the city of the future. For example, a town that is experiencing traffic issues and wants to improve its transportation system can simply look at the energy consumption rates inside office buildings and residences.

Such data can reveal the peaks and valleys of energy use to determine when people are traveling to and from work. This information can help the city to better regulate traffic patterns. That same city could also use information from sensors on street lights to conserve energy, prevent crime and increase operational efficiency.

The challenge to becoming an efficient, smarter city is to increase interconnectivity between utilities and public service departments. That connection helps to manage and leverage city assets on both a short- and long-term basis.

For example, an electric utility can use the same communication network to solve a problem in the grid, monitor street lighting, conserve energy, prevent crime and increase operational efficiency. This type of interconnectivity will help to reduce inefficiencies and provide cost savings.

Smarter Cities are Key to Conservation

The connection of utility smart meters to communication systems and data analytics is critical to achieving a smarter, more efficient city. Utilities, however, are receiving an unprecedented amount of data from their communication networks on a daily basis. This information includes everything from data on the utility’s infrastructure to news and weather alerts. The influx of data can be overwhelming, but there is a way to take this tidal wave of information, extract the key pieces of knowledge and share them with customers.

Turning this massive amount of information into actionable insights can greatly improve operations for the utility and the city. With data analytics, public service providers can better manage their information and promote interconnectivity within the utility and organizations such as city planning, transportation departments or emergency services. Data analytics also helps public service providers improve efficiency and conservation efforts by better managing load shedding and providing customers with the information they need to save energy.

Consider what happened to an electric utility located in the middle of the country’s “Tornado Alley.” After a storm hit, the utility’s transmission and distribution systems experienced significant damage, leaving many people without power. By integrating data management software with its outage management system, the utility made all necessary repairs, restored power to its customers and resumed operations in record time.

Smart meters that tap into data analytics provide applications that can improve city operations. When a utility and government offices do not communicate, an opportunity is missed to streamline efforts that could produce efficiencies. A simple way for these organizations to align themselves is through information exchange and data integration. Smart meters with data analytics capabilities help utilities identify issues or potential areas to improve operations and lower costs. Working together and sharing information can produce efficiencies that benefit everyone.

Creating Informed Cities With Data Analytics

When cities lay the foundation for an exchange of information across departments, they can achieve system-wide efficiency. Whether it’s dispatching emergency services, redirecting traffic, turning on the streetlights for a major event or load shedding by an electric utility, data analytics plays an important role in building the smart cities of tomorrow.

Smart metering technology used to be just a method for collecting data for customers’ monthly energy usage. Now, these same meters provide a never-before-seen view into a city’s infrastructure to catch inefficiencies before they present a problem. This benefits cities today and lays the foundation to address future conservation concerns.

Sorting through the massive influx of data for key nuggets of information is critical to information management. Prior to data analytics technology, the previous solution for a utility with a failed transformer would be to install a larger transformer, assuming that the failure resulted because of its load. But by leveraging the insights gained from data analytics, a utility can see that the transformer did not fail due to demand and that the addition of a larger transformer is not necessary. Based on this knowledge, the utility can now replace the transformer with one at the appropriate size. Going a step farther, the same public service provider can also analyze the data and determine that it can actually downsize its transformer base utility-wide. That means energy conservation and financial savings.

Data analytics also can enhance customer service for utilities. Utilities already can predict potential transformer failures, leading to fewer power outages and happier customers. The increased information realized from data analytics will allow utilities to create an open dialogue with their customers about any potential issues or their energy consumption, creating even happier customers.

Looking Ahead

Technology, including sensor technology, is advancing rapidly, allowing many more ways to leverage data analytics. Data analytics are moving from centralized computing to the edge of the network, which provides individual meters the potential to not only collect data, but also react in real time.

In addition, decentralized data analytics will open doors for improved forecasting at the meter level. During the peak of summer heat, meters will be able to pinpoint areas with voltage issues, allowing utilities to optimize voltage shifting. This improves energy conservation, customer service and revenue.

The Benefits are Endless

By leveraging data analytics, the barriers can be broken down between utilities and other public service providers. More specifically, each organization will be able to see the big picture and understand how the actions of one group affect the entire city. When utilities and cities work together operations become more efficient and customers benefit.

Utilities and their customers crave basic data and visualization tools such as charts, graphs and online dashboards. Data analytics allows utilities to provide this information to their customers and realize even greater value hidden within the information. And, as one department implements data analytics others will see the positive results and embrace the technology too.

Data analytics can have environmental and societal advantages as well. Utilities can already provide alerts on individual energy usage and an entire neighborhood. That insight helps motivate customers to enhance their individual conservation efforts.

Data analytics is key to maximizing the massive amounts of information that utilities receive from smart meters and other sensors on a daily basis. Analyzing data and creating actionable insights can improve operations, reduce cost and decrease inefficiencies for utilities and their partners. This exchange of data has the potential to create smarter cities worldwide that maximize conservation and improve everyone’s quality of life.

Brian Crow joined Sensus during the acquisition of Verdeeco, a smart grid analytics company he successfully led as chief executive officer. Brian is an 18-year utility industry veteran whose entire career has been focused on finding solutions to the challenges utilities face across their enterprise. Prior to joining Verdeeco, a Sensus company, Brian worked for the SAS National Utility Practice where he focused on providing utilities with analytic products such as load forecasting and energy trading risk measurement. Brian is a licensed professional engineer in Georgia and received a bachelor of science degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Georgia.

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