Hidden Treasure: Two New Resources Offer Up Massive Amounts of Utility Data
Green Button data is fine -- when you can get it. But real-world smart grid data in huge volumes is better -- particularly when it’s open to parties outside utility walls.
Two new energy data initiatives being launched this week illustrate how individual utilities and smart grid research consortia are helping to break the logjam on opening the flood of data from smart meters, smart grid devices and energy-aware homes.
The first comes from Chattanooga municipal utility EPB, which is taking applications this week for its GIGTANK project -- a startup incubator, or “accelerator,” inviting local entrepreneurs to take a dive into the utility’s masses of grid data. That includes not just smart meter energy consumption data, but a range of voltage, power quality and asset health information flowing from EPB’s fiber-connected smart metering, distribution automation and voltage optimization systems.
The second comes from the Pecan Street Project, the Department of Energy-funded smart grid project in Austin, Texas, which on Wednesday opened up its WikiEnergy platform containing the billions of data points the consortium has been collecting from its cross-cutting smart grid and grid edge projects since its 2010 launch.
Both are unique opportunities for non-utility partners to obtain utility data that’s almost always out of reach to outsiders. It’s also an opportunity for participants to make use of a breadth and depth of data that doesn’t exist in the better-known data formats, such as Green Button Connect for customer energy data, now being made available (with customer consent) to third parties interested in analyzing it.
That makes them useful models for how future utility data-sharing initiatives -- combined with data privacy and security protections, of course -- could open up opportunities for innovators. Here’s a look at how they work.
Chattanooga’s GIGTANK: An incubator for deep, fast grid data analysis
Chattanooga’s GIGTANK has been around for three years now, and is built around (and named after) the city’s $300 million, city-wide gigabit fiber optic network. Built using $111 million in Department of Energy smart grid stimulus grants, the network now supports high-speed internet access for commercial and residential city residents, as well as supporting a high-speed smart grid network that extends to most of the city’s residents -- a rarity in the utility world.
Starting as a contest awarding $100,000 in prize money, the GIGTANK has in the past two years shifted to an incubator model, looking for entrepreneurs with ideas for turning that fiber network asset into value for the city and its residents, Danna Bailey, vice president of corporate communications at EPB, told me. And this year’s GIGTANK is the first one to specifically open smart grid data to participants.
Applications for this summer’s GIGTANK program close on Friday, but EPB has already received a number of pitches, she said. Ideas include using social media to augment power outage reporting, studying data for predicting grid faults and transformer failures, and applying real-time grid information to mobile workforce management applications.
Andy Campbell, a technical consultant for EPB, described the kind of data that will be made available to GIGTANK participants as “anything that can be anonymized, where we’re not opening up a customer’s data” -- important for protecting the privacy of individual customers.
Beyond that limitation, “There’s a ton of possibilities out there, and we’re hoping to share data not just from the meters, but data from a lot of devices on the SCADA” network that connects EPB’s grid devices, he said. That’s an important point, because it means GIGTANK participants can move past smart meters and up into grid devices in search of data for their analytics.
Take the example of pairing smart meter power consumption readings with the voltage and power readings from the S&C Electric IntelliRupter fault detection, isolation and restoration devices deployed across EPB’s grid, he said. Those IntelliRupters have helped EPB restore power outages and save millions of dollars after storms, but they’re also valuable sources of data to find power losses in the system, whether for technical or non-technical (i.e., energy theft) reasons, he said.
Not many utilities would make this kind of internal data available to startups, Bailey noted. In fact, many investor-owned utilities might not be legally allowed to. As a municipal utility, EPB has “some freedom to do some things that we think are really great for this community. In fact, we think that’s our job.”
WikiEnergy: The world’s deepest neighborhood-level energy data platform?
Where Chattanooga EPB is looking to drive entrepreneurial innovation with its GIGTANK project, Pecan Street Project is looking for not-for-profit researchers to tap its WikiEnergy data store. The platform is free, but is only open to faculty and students at “postsecondary educational institutions” such as U.S. universities and their international equivalents, or researchers at nonprofit research institutions.
That’s in keeping with the mission of the Pecan Street Research Consortium, the group of university professors and grad students who’ve been working with this truly massive data set for years now. Indeed, part of the duty of WikiEnergy participants is to “help curate and validate the data, giving it meaning,” according to Wednesday’s announcement from the Environmental Defense Fund, one of Pecan Street’s founding board members.
Pecan Street’s projects include analysis of how the orientation of solar panels can change the generation profiles of PV fleets to match utility peak loads, a series of energy monitoring and management experiments in single-family homes and multi-family dwellings, and a long-running experiment linking Chevy Volt plug-in hybrids, smart charging APIs and solar-equipped, energy-aware homes.
This is all grist for researchers who want to assess the environmental, economic and social impacts of different combinations of clean technologies in a single neighborhood -- not “just theoretical, but based on real activity,” Marita Mirzatuny, EDF project manager, wrote in a Wednesday statement. “This will give weight to new business models and technologies, and channel new, clean energy products to market faster.”
Photo Credit: Utility Data/shutterstock
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Jeff St. John is a reporter and analyst covering the green technology space, with a particular focus on smart grid, smart buildings, energy efficiency, demand response, energy storage, green IT, renewable energy and technology to integrate distributed, intermittent green energy into the grid. Jeff majored in English and graduated from the University of California at Berkeley in 1994. He ...
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