SAP in-memory smart grid analytics for utilities on the way

Next month, one of the newest SAP in-memory applications will hit the market, allowing utility companies to better manage energy supply and demand.

Encouraged by the growth of its smart meter software, SAP is preparing to take the technology to the next level with the addition of an SAP HANA in-memory application that gives utility companies the ability to monitor energy usage down to the individual residence as well as pinpoint energy network outages, all in real-time.

SAP’s Advanced Metering Infrastructure application, which first hit the market in 2009, connects so-called smart meters and the utility companies. The system allows utilities to gauge energy usage in 15-minute intervals and lets them read those meters -- as well as turn them on or off -- without meter readers in the field.

The in-memory software, which will be generally available next month, bumps that communication up a notch, according to James McClelland, senior global director of utilities industry marketing at SAP.

With in-memory, that stream of usage data coming from the smart meters becomes real-time and can be used to “slice and dice” data down to the individual, street or neighborhood level, according to McClelland. That information can then be shared with customers through a portal so they can change their consumption habits.

The technology allows utilities to take advantages of to-the-minute changes on the energy market as well as better balance supply and demand.

“They can’t store [energy] in a Mason jar; they have to shed it off, and that’s lost revenue for a utility," McClelland said. "On the other hand, if they don’t make enough power, that’s lost revenue, too.”

The same technology that allows utilities to gauge usage among customer also lets companies monitor their grid for outages in real time through the use of those smart meters and other sensors placed around the network. These meters and sensors constitute a so-called smart grid.

“With smart meters and smart grid, you’re constantly talking and pinging these devices all throughout the value chain,” McClelland said. “Whether it’s a transmission line or right down to the meter, when something suddenly stops talking to you, you say, ‘Oops -- something just happened. I may be able to correct the power outage before anyone even knows there’s a power outage.’ ”

‘It’s a huge effort’
Roughly 40 utilities -- a small portion of the 2,400 utility companies that are running SAP software -- are using the smart grid software.

Rates of smart meter adoption have been slow, McClelland said, not only because the smart meter devices that go on homes and businesses are costly, but because legislation that encourages more efficient utility systems is only now beginning to occur at the state level.

One of the companies considering a move to SAP’s smart meter application -- and possibly in-memory -- is the Snohomish County Public Utility District No. 1, just outside Seattle.

The utility will begin looking at implementing smart grid technology sometime next year, according to Mridula Sharma, an SAP project manager for the Northwest utility. That means replacing the existing meters with smart meters, which is no small undertaking, she said.

“It’s a huge effort; there’s no doubt about it," Sharma said. "You have to replace the infrastructure.”

But having that technology in place means utilities can better meet the growing energy demands of an expanding population -- and avoid brownouts or blackouts.

“That’s where all the utilities are going, because there’s only a limited supply of these [energy] resources," Sharma said. "They are all constrained now.”

Questions about SAP HANA in-memory?
Utilities considering the in-memory applications should think not only about the data the system provides and how that’s going to be provided to customers, McClelland said, but how long they’re going to retain the information.

They’ll also want to decide how often they’re going to analyze the data, he said. Some companies may want to analyze the data on a periodic basis; others may want to stream things as they happen.  

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