Big Data Growth for Utilities: The Smart Grid

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Big data—that is, a database that is too large to be managed through traditional data management applications—is growing rapidly. As new automated technologies develop, the amount of information available to utilities in particular is set to experience explosive growth. One key trend driving this growth for utilities is smart grids.

The Growth of Grid Data

Technological advancement is unequivocally the force driving data growth. From mobile phones to automobiles, millions of networked sensors are becoming part of the physical world–and these sensors are capturing, creating, and communicating data.[1] For utilities, the implementation of sensors and the automation of energy management is part of a greater concept: the smart grid.

The smart grid is a modern vision of the electrical grid which uses digital information and communications technology to gather information and initiate automated responses to rapid changes in electric demand.[2] This two-way communication between generation sources and the electrical grid is expected to yield significant economic benefits and greatly improve grid efficiency.

The deployment of smart meters and smart appliances is a growing initiative. The U.S. Department of Energy, for example, has implemented funding programs to accelerate investments into grid modernization. As of 2012, private investment and government funding resulted in nearly $8 billion worth of investment into smart grid development projects.[3] Research estimates that the number of connected nodes–sometimes referred to as machine-to-machine devices–at work in the world will grow more than 30% annually within the next decade.[4]

Of course, what we refer to as machine-to-machine communication is simply a transfer of data.  Smart grids will expand the scope of data collected within the electric grid to include data regarding the usage patterns of customers within the grid; outages or other service disruptions; and the conditions of equipment within the grid. Moreover, this information is only the tip of the iceberg of the new data that smart grid implementation will reveal.

Drivers of Data Collection

Smart grids provide utility companies with much more accurate usage data, enabling improved load forecasting. Accurate forecasts provide the foundation for daily operations and distribution planning, and having advanced knowledge of load fluctuations enables utility providers to more readily implement renewable energy sources into the grid. In fact, this information will increase the efficiency of all energy production–be it from renewable sources, coal, natural gas, or nuclear.

Similarly, the smart grid will provide utilities with more current information on usage, enabling faster demand response. Thus, if the grid experiences unexpected increases or decreases in demand, utility companies can quickly respond by increasing or decreasing generation.

Electric vehicle integration is another key endeavor of the smart grid. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has explained its hope “that smart grid interoperability standards would ultimately accommodate a wide array of advanced vehicle integration with the grid.”[5] If and when electric vehicles become more widespread, smart grids will assist in maintaining reliable operations of the system, and help providers to monitor and control when and how electric vehicles are charged.

Final Words

There is no doubt that big data is here to stay, so how can utilities ensure that they are managing their data efficiently? Companies must develop an integrated strategy for the entire enterprise that addresses data collection and validation, storage architecture and the integration of disparate data sets, security and compliance, and the analytical needs of the business.

Sophisticated analytics can have a substantial impact on decision making and risk management, not to mention that through depth analysis, business users can gain insights that would otherwise be buried in the mysterious mass of data.

ZEMA is an end-to-end enterprise data management system that features robust data collection, integration, and analytical capabilities.  All data coming into the ZEMA database is automatically validated and is normalized using a consistent metadata structure. These features enable users to access the data they need quickly and easily, knowing that it is current and correct. To learn more about ZEMA, visit

[1] McKinsey Global Institute. “Big Data: The Next Frontier for Innovation, Competition, and Productivity.”

[2] “What is the Smart Grid?” Accessed April 10, 2014.

[3] “Smart Grid Investment Grant Program Progress Report 2012.” Accessed April 23, 2014.

[4] McKinsey Global Institute. “Big Data: The Next Frontier for Innovation, Competition, and Productivity.”

[5] “Smart Grid Policy.” Accessed April 23, 2014.

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