The buildout of smart grid infrastructure is about to drown utilities in a sea of information. So points out Jack Danahy in an interesting article in Smart Grid News recently, in which he presents data that shows how much information a typical smart meter will produce. If 140 million smart meters are installed over the next ten years they could produce a massive 100 petabytes (1 PB is 1 quadrillion bytes) of information, according to FERC data he cites. Info from utility trials suggests that a smart meter that updates energy info every 15 minutes can deliver 400 MB per smart meter per year. For perspective, Google processes about 20 PB of data per day, and 1 PB is equivalent to the amount of data contained in 20 million four-drawer filing cabinets filled with text.
On a grand scale, and for individual utilities, the idea of collecting, processing and storing this much data is daunting. While 400 MB is less than an average CD worth of data, multiply that amount by hundreds of thousands, and even millions, for each smart meter for each utility. The result is that the utility sector will need to invest a very sizable amount into data storage infrastructure and information management programs.
First off, that means utilities will be purchasing a lot more memory and storage capacity — in other words a place to house all that smart meter data. Danahy says that California utility PG&E has added about 1.2 PB of memory for 700,000 meters that will update twice a day and could produce 170 MB per meter per year, and plans to add more capacity for the rest of its buildout. For the case of Austin Energy’s 500,000 meters, the utility’s yearly data storage needs grew from 20 TB to 200 TB.
Utilities will also increasingly be investing in traditional data centers. Cisco predicts that utility spending on traditional data centers could make up “a large chunk” of the potential $20 billion that will spent on the smart grid over the next several years, reported CNET’s Martin LaMonica reported earlier this year.
On both fronts, utilities will be looking to the computing industry’s memory, storage and data center leaders for products and services. Any company that has built a business off of storing, securing and managing data would be smart to launch a utility-focused service or division. In addition entrepreneurs interested in jumping into this soon-to be-booming market should consider what unique needs utilities have compared to other sectors and target services to fill those needs. Security and privacy will also be major areas of growth for smart meter energy information.
Utilities will have a range of information storage and management needs. Small rural utilities and large investor-owned utilities will have different levels of storage needs, and the information unearthed from smart meters will also depend on how sophisticated those meters are. As you can see from the earlier example, smart meters that update energy info every 15 minutes, compared to twice a day, produce more than double the amount of energy info.
Through investment, utilities will be able to ultimately manage the flow of information, but will need to pay very a close attention to the practices that the computing industry has built, including keeping data safe and secure.