SAS® adds power to Ausgrid's data demands
The aim of network business, Ausgrid to be a world leader in distributing electricity and providing energy services has been given a boost following the implementation of a number of SAS solutions.
The electricity sector is undergoing monumental changes. This means power companies need to have the right data at their fingertips to be able to respond quickly to demands for information from internal stakeholders, government departments, regulators, residential and business customers. Ausgrid has been relying on SAS to help ensure it gets the right data to the right people in a timely manner.
For Ausgrid, being able to supply this data is critical for its success. However, it is also extremely complex–Ausgrid needs to easily access and draw meaningful information from the 67 billion meter reading records accumulated over seven years. Ausgrid relies on SAS to draw insights from this large and valuable source of company information.
Internal stakeholders, such as Network Pricing, use the insights to devise tariff strategies, and inform broader decisions including metering strategy. Other internal stakeholders utilise SAS software in demand forecasting, understanding how network reliability impacts customers, and load research – the study of electricity consumption by different groups.
Catherine O'Neill, Executive Manager, Regulation and Pricing, says providing data to the regulator is a key challenge.
"One of the key points in our business cycle is that every five years we provide a submission to the regulator that outlines our investment and operating strategies and expenditure for the next five years," O'Neill says. "For that day we have to produce forecasts of both our revenue and expenses. There's 18 months of planning to get ready for handing over that huge submission in order to justify our plans and operations. Data plays a key role in justifying our plans."
O'Neill also has to submit reports to internal and external stakeholders every six months and be ready to answer questions at any time. "The compliance levels are very sophisticated and so I need a bullet-proof package of data at my fingertips," she says. "SAS provides this, together with the ability to drill down to quickly answer very detailed questions."
A third category of regulatory requests is more exploratory, typically seeking new information and advanced analysis. Ausgrid's Manager for Strategic Analysis, Daniel Collins, says that this challenging category has been growing quickly as the industry changes.
A single customer view
Prior to using SAS solutions, Network Pricing was generally running its analyses on a single database, and found it cumbersome to integrate data from multiple sources. The team now uses SAS to gain insights drawn from multiple sources, which include the SAP-based customer information database and billing systems; a geographic system for spatial information about assets; meteorology data pertinent to the network footprint; and B2B data which transfers customer information from retailers to networks.
"The actual data sources may differ according to needs but the important thing is that they can all be easily incorporated into SAS analysis," Collins says. "This improved integration provides a valuable single view of the customer that wasn't previously feasible."
He says Ausgrid has a much clearer picture of where the customer is located both spatially and electrically; what part of the network they are connected to; which substation they are supplied by; who has solar panels installed; their usage history, and tariff.
"We have made significant progress in being able to understand our customers in many dimensions. This information provides insights into the size, shape and effectiveness of our infrastructure, and contributes to the increased efficiency of our operations," Collins says.
Answers in minutes, not hours
The pertinence, accuracy and completeness of the information provided using SAS solutions is one benefit – the speed of response is just as impressive. Once a month, Collins' team has three hours in which to check and consolidate data from multiple sources to provide a report for financial projections and forecasting.
"The raw data only gets to us on the morning of the day it's due, so we have three frantic hours where we have to check it, process it, make sure it reconciles and deliver it to our internal customers."
Previously this task required the services of the highly skilled and dedicated engineers, and Collins says even then the deadline was frequently unable to be met.
"Using SAS, it's now refined to the point where a recent graduate can 'press the button' and 45 seconds later you've got a populated report and automated diagnostics," he says.
"The process has gone from being high skill/high resource to one that is fast and auditable. We've saved hours when it matters most. Furthermore, our skilled resources are now redirected from data-intensive work to working on strategic questions."
Adding power to technology debate
In addition to the solar industry's contribution to a cleaner mix of electricity generation, both electricity distribution businesses and the solar industry itself need to understand the extent to which solar panel installations assist with managing network congestion.
Collins explains, "By leveraging SAS to integrate our existing solar panel installation and generation data with our network's load data, we've developed a comprehensive data set on solar generation in our network."
The data set has assisted stakeholders and industry to quantify the network benefits of solar generation and appreciate the factors involved in this complex topic.
Another example of the advantages of having more insightful data is in the ongoing assessment of the benefits of technology such as smart meters. As some customers have time-based metering and some customers don't, Ausgrid uses network data to determine the respective profiles.
"By 'profile' I mean the shape and timing of electricity usage," Collins says. "We are in a position to be able to investigate customer usage profiles and understand how their behaviour contributes to network constraints because now we've got all the data in one place."
Building a case for capital investment
Ausgrid distributes electricity to 1.6 million homes and businesses throughout greater Sydney and across the Hunter and Central Coast regions of New South Wales.
Its network comprises more than 200 large electricity substations, 30,000 small distribution substations, 500,000 power poles and almost 50,000 kilometres of above- and below-ground cabling.
O'Neill says the scope and complexity of this network highlights the importance of data accuracy, especially when it comes to making multi-million dollar capital investment decisions.
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Ausgrid needed to draw greater insight from its 67 billion meter reading records to support its decision making, management reporting, regulatory compliance and forecasting.
SAS Business Analytics, using SAS for data management capabilities to create a single customer view; for analytics to help gain insight into network performance and demand forecasting; and for reporting to automate the distribution of insights generated.
Using SAS, Ausgrid has achieved a single view of customers from expanded and integrated data and now can provide management reporting in minutes instead of hours.
“ We’ve saved hours when it matters most. Furthermore, our skilled resources are now redirected from data-intensive work to working on strategic questions. ”
Manager for Strategic Analysis