From Data Tsunamis to Information Bursts

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Can Lessons from Google and Twitter Help Utilities Run the Grid?

As electric utilities rapidly deploy sensors, smart meters, and other hardware for more comprehensive awareness of the grid, they may have something to learn from Google and Twitter.

With the daunting prospect of centrally processing a tsunami of data from these devices, EPRI researchers have proposed a distributed approach: Each device processes its data into much smaller, actionable “information bursts” and transmits them to grid operators in standard message formats—similar to the way texts, tweets, and photos are sent from smart phones. Operators could manage and integrate these messages using software and methods similar to those used by Google and Twitter to visually represent tens of millions of texts and tweets per minute. Operators could then track integrated messages for real-time and historical snapshots of grid status.

For example, instead of transmitting megabytes of unprocessed customer use data, a smart meter would transmit only the most relevant bytes of aggregate data for a certain period, along with outage notifications when power is interrupted.

EPRI is working with the University of North Carolina at Charlotte to develop and demonstrate a message manager prototype and data structure. The project will assess computing requirements and necessary modifications in grid hardware.

Artwork by Kirk Anderson