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Why Big Data is a Big Deal for Energy

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You may have noticed that Dell has been talking about big data this week. The energy industry – which encompasses the range of activities from exploration, production, transportation and distribution of oil & gas to the generation and distribution of utility services – is beginning to implement smarter measurement technologies that dramatically increase the volume and velocity of data that can be input into models, acted upon and managed over time. This ‘big data’ is a big deal for Energy because it helps provide these entities the opportunity to improve operating efficiencies and productivity while giving them the ability to do modeling that helps them potentially take action even before an incident occurs.

For instance, oil and gas has always been one of the most information-intensive industries in the world, dealing with data issues of immense size and complexity. However, data that is starting to emerge from digital oilfield operations – where instruments continuously read and transmit data about production and performance conditions, pipelines and the performance of mechanical systems – has the potential to drive multiple step change improvements in productivity and reliability. Think smart rigs that know when things are not going perfectly and can alert the operator to preserve production flow rates and you have the general idea.

One use case highlighted in a recent article in MIT’s Technology Review described how digital innovation through big data helps improve real-time drilling operations, noting that the companies that are the most successful at operating remotely and using data wisely will claim big rewards. Chevron cited industry-wide estimates suggesting 8% higher production rates and 6% higher recovery rates from a ‘fully optimized’ digital oil field. As digital oilfield technologies and their supporting analytical models gain traction and are deployed, oil and gas companies of all sizes will be dealing with big data issues in their operations – and needing to act upon, retain and manage this data efficiently.

Electric utilities are in particular seeing a new wave of potential operational improvement with the implementation of smart grids. The most basic element in this system is the smart electric meter, which can now provide data every few seconds instead of just monthly, raising the amount of data that a utility could potentially collect from one reading per month for billing to more than 500,000 per month* – and all of this data is potentially useful. Utilities are motivated to implement this advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) to lower their direct costs for billing and management, and are discovering that this new source of big data, when properly managed and analyzed, can help them improve their operations. A recent article about the smart grid noted that some of the benefits of this movement of internet/IT into the electrical distribution system will come from more efficient adoption of electric vehicles and renewable energy sources – solar and wind – as the newer, smarter grid will be better prepared to manage the fluctuations in load which these technologies bring.

Big data provides energy entities with multiple ways to make their operations more efficient, improve productivity and be able to adapt to changing conditions while increasing service levels. These are just a few examples of the positive way in which big data will help bring about big positive change for energy.


* One meter reading every 5 seconds for 30 days = 518,400 records

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