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Data opportunity 'enormous' for energy sector: ElectraNet

Data opportunity 'enormous' for energy sector: ElectraNet

Electricity transmission provider streamlines IT, prepares for future

ElectraNet senior IT manager Graham Smith (far left) joined other APJ customers at a Dell session hosted by the region's Dell president, Amit Midha (far right).

ElectraNet senior IT manager Graham Smith (far left) joined other APJ customers at a Dell session hosted by the region's Dell president, Amit Midha (far right).

Big data analytics will be critical to the future of the electricity industry, according to the senior IT manager of ElectraNet.

ElectraNet is the principal transmission network service provider in South Australia, managing the state’s regulated high-voltage electricity transmission network.

At a Dell customer roundtable in Singapore, ElectraNet senior IT manager Graham Smith, said data analytics is one of several tools he’s exploring to reduce operating expenses and maximise value.

Also to that end, ElectraNet has streamlined its vendor relationships and is in the midst of virtualising a critical system used for monitoring.

Smith said the IT division only represents a small percentage of overall business op-ex, but IT can still have a massive indirect effect on costs.

“Where I can provide value is in widening the gap between the IT op ex and the overall business value and helping to bring down the operating expenditures of the business as a whole,” he said.

Smith sees potentially big savings ahead if the company can gain greater insights about its electricity infrastructure through big data analysis.

ElectraNet has “an absolutely critical need to collect at the point of the asset really accurate information about those assets,” he said.

“The analytics opportunity ahead of not just my business but our entire industry in terms of extending the life of current transmission assets is enormous.”

“The electricity businesses need to run harder for longer for less—so, really sweating the existing assets,” he said. “Data is the golden child there in terms of achieving that.”

ElectraNet is now exploring how it can incorporate greater analytics into its business, Smith said. The company is doing a proof of concept with a local group who Smith said has a deep understanding of ElectraNet’s SAP management system and has partnered with PhDs from Australian universities.

ElectraNet has not yet involved Dell in the conversation but plans to talk to the vendor about it soon, Smith said. Some of the work will rely on ElectraNet’s existing Dell systems including Compellent storage, he said.

Smith said the project could be critical in providing insights about the life and capability of the company’s electricity infrastructure.

“Electricity transformers can operate 50 or 60 years, so no one’s got any really reliable data on the full lifecycle of the asset and what things are indicators of impending mortality of that asset or what happens if you run it harder under these conditions for this kind of duration,” he said.

While there’s been much talk lately about smart grid, including smart meters in people’s homes that report data on energy usage, the transmission layer has always been smart, said Smith.

Even so, he said, “the plant that goes into the substation is getting smarter and smarter all the time and starting to generate more and more information.

“The challenge is how much of that needs to come back to base and how much should stay in the substation, be aggregated there, summarised and potentially even sliced and diced within the substation before the important information is sent back.”

Another challenge for the control room is “information overload,” he said.

“Because there’s so much information about so many different characteristics of so much plant [infrastructure], it’s working out 'what do I actually need to pay attention to?'”

Next page: Rationalising, virtualising and the future

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