What do Twitter updates, NASA’s tree-spotting satellite, and special effects from a Tom Cruise thriller have in common with the utility poles outside your house? A lot, it turns out. They can all pitch in to keep your lights on.
GE just rolled out a new grid management system that harvests gigabytes of diverse data from social media, smart meters, the weather service, the U.S. census and other sources to help power companies predict and prevent electrical outages. Just as Tom Cruise did in the futuristic action drama Minority Report, the system allows utility workers to manipulate the information with their hands – swiping through data like an orchestra conductor.
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The idea behind the system, which GE calls Grid IQ Insight, is to help utilities detect electricity outages faster and fix problems before they get out of hand. “Today, utilities by and large rely on customer calls to find power outages,” says Jonathan Garrity, product manager at GE Digital Energy. “We can interface with Twitter to complement customers calling in. For example, we can identify all tweets from a given geographic area that have key phrases like ‘power outage’.” The system corroborates the information with data from smart meters (more than 37 million have been installed in the U.S.), power equipment like transformers owned by the utility, and actual calls from customers.
Grid IQ Insight is one of GE’s new Industrial Internet products. The Industrial Internet is a global network connecting people, machines and data. GE is investing $1 billion in Industrial Internet applications and products like Grid IQ Insight that have the potential to cut $150 billion in waste across major industries like aviation, oil & gas, healthcare and energy by improving asset management and productivity and lowering maintenance costs.
There are other Grid IQ Insight applications besides spotting outages. “Vegetation management is a huge challenge for utilities,” Garrity says. “One of the companies we work with spends $70 million a year trimming trees. By combining outage, weather and satellite data we can make vegetation management more targeted, improving reliability and keeping these costs low.”
The glut of data calls for powerful data management. That’s why GE engineers co-opted the same technology used by Netflix to stream movies. The system, called Apache Cassandra, was originally developed by Facebook for fast inbox searching. “It allows for higher availability and more efficient querying of our data sets,” Garrity says.
Individual customers can also benefit from Grid IQ Insight’s analytics. For example, many families that invested in solar panels can’t tell exactly how much power they are generating and how much money they are saving. Now they can log in to their utility’s website and monitor in detail their power usage and generation. “You can see the return on investment on your roof-top solar panel,” Garrity says. “Grid IQ Insight will also know when your solar panels are not putting out as much electricity as they’ve been in the past. Maybe one of them is broken or needs to be cleaned.”
Cruise’s Minority Report is set in 2054. But intelligent energy management is already here.