How Itron Plans To Capture The Smart Grid Big Data Opportunity

Nov.10.11 | About: Itron, Inc. (ITRI)

By Chet Geschickter

How Itron Plans to Capture the Smart Grid Big Data Opportunity

“Data and analytics” is getting a lot of buzz in smart grid industry circles right now, but what exactly does that mean, and how does one “do” data and analytics? Here's one prime example from big smart meter vendor Itron, which is jumping into the data analytics fray with a solution the firm calls Active Smart Grid Analytics (or ASA).

Itron's (NASDAQ:ITRI) been developing the core technology with key customer Southern California Edison and partners Teradata (TDC), IBM and SAP. The integrated data warehouse solution is now being launched for customers that are using Itron's OpenWay smart meters, as well as the large and growing number of utilities that are turning to Itron's meter data management expertise to manage meters from other vendors.

ASA is a high-end smart grid data warehouse solution that, according to Darby McKee, Director of Software Products for Itron, is targeted at customers deploying AMI that have a broader smart grid vision. ASA is a multi-vendor solution consisting of a data warehouse system from Teradata, a data synchronization product from IBM called Change Data Capture (NASDAQ:CDC), SAP Business Objects, and Itron Enterprise Edition (IEE) Meter Data Management (NYSEMKT:MDM).

Meter data management systems provide a logical starting point for smart grid data analytics, since they already house smart meter data (in fact, here’s a link to an upcoming GTM Research webinar on smart grid data analytics). Itron is also providing the integration glue to assemble this multi-vendor solution, and what Itron refers to as base kits for different key analytics applications.

For those not familiar with Teradata, the company is a leader in high-end data warehousing that has been in business for over 30 years, with around $2.5 billion in revenues (NYSE:TDC). Big data is the name of the game at Teradata.

IBM Change Data Capture reads data updates from the IEE MDM database logs and provides a peer-to-peer direct connection to the Teradata data warehouse. It also supports data transformations. The net effect is rapid delivery of meter data to Teradata in a decision-support-ready format, without imposing additional overhead on the core IEE MDM database engine.

Business Objects is SAP’s business intelligence solution suite that includes reporting, dashboards and data exploration tools. Itron is reselling the IBM and SAP components, but not Teradata (that’s a reference partner sell).

Itron’s base kits provide pre-packaged data analytics functionality for different needs, including: power quality using smart meter voltage data, theft detection via energy balance calculations, transformer load management that analyzes the load profiles for transformers, and market settlement calculations. Itron is also providing an extension kit and hopes to encourage customers and business partners to build additional solutions.

But is the product in use anywhere?

According to Itron, ASA is actually based on a reference implementation of these core technology components that is up and running at Southern California Edison. Going into 2012, Itron is hoping to sell ASA outright to new accounts. For now, Itron ASA is focused on IEE MDM customers, but management is not ruling out the possibility of supporting third-party MDM implementations down the road.

Admittedly, this is a high-end solution set with software prerequisites that add up to a significant entry point (in the low hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to management). However, it does answer some of the key questions set forth above, including specific analytics use cases and the ways and means to “do” data analytics.

2012 will be an important year for ASA -- a few key client wins will help Itron and its partners cement their offerings and provide additional resources to support future development plans, including support for the common information model standard. For now, though, many utilities have their hands full deploying meters and don’t yet have a strategy for smart grid data analytics. This puts Itron’s Big Data analytics solution a little ahead of the market, but that may not be a bad thing in terms of having a solution ready.

Oh, and here’s the MDM myth buster. According to Matt Owens, Director of Software Product Line Management, there is a perception in the market that the IEE MDM customer base is limited to Itron OpenWay accounts. “That’s just flat-out wrong,” says Owens. “I don’t know where people got that notion, but IEE MDM is in a lot of non-OpenWay accounts.” It makes Matt’s product marketing blood boil to hear that, and he cites a litany of non-OpenWay accounts using IEE MDM to back it up, including: Southern Company and Nevada Energy (Sensus), Pepco Holdings, PowerCor/CitiPower Australia and Florida Power & Light (Silver Spring), and Idaho Power and Bangor Hydro (Aclara). Further, according to Matt, there are 40 million meters under contract for IEE MDM, with a significant portion that are not Itron.

We’ll be watching closely for signs of market progress for Itron’s Big Data Analytics solution as the market heats up in the months ahead.