How Data-Driven Energy Can Help Save the Planet

Technology, Blog posts

If we think that we can consume energy the same way without consequences, we’re wrong.

According to the US EPA: “All forms of electricity generation have an environmental impact on our air, water, and land, but it varies. Of the total energy consumed in the United States, about 40% is used to generate electricity, making electricity use an important part of each person’s environmental footprint. Producing and using electricity more efficiently reduces both the amount of fuel needed to generate electricity and the amount of greenhouse gases and other air pollution emitted as a result.”

As it stands, the energy sector is responsible for 35% of greenhouse gas emissions:


Earth needs saving and utility companies can no longer deny the role they play in this rescue mission.

There is Power in Numbers

And by numbers we mean data.

Every sustainability-oriented energy initiative is powered by data and it permeates every stage of modern energy distribution models. From planning, building, executing, and monitoring, data is essential for any green energy campaign to be successful.

Smart grids, a key component in sustainable energy, won’t be possible without big data.

Smarter Grids are Greener Grids

The US Department of Energy posits that building smart grids is the “single best chance to build sustainability into the electric system”. Specifically, the agency enumerates the following environmental benefits:

  • Faster and wider deployment of renewable energy sources. Outdated technology creates a barrier for renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. Smart grids allow energy distributors to slice and dice energy production, distribution, and consumption and gives them more flexibility to manage the intermittency of renewables. This allows for a full-scale deployment and higher penetration of renewables into the energy mix.
  • Optimization of solar and wind energy. Managing the complexities of supply fluctuations versus demand response is one of the factors that’s driving up the cost of wind power. Smart grids combine demand response, energy storage, and distributed and centralized generation assets to manage these fluctuations and keep the cost of integrating wind power into the system at the minimum. Likewise, smart grids will allow for the installation of individual solar infrastructure for individual users, and allow excess energy generated to be circulated back into the system. This enables the excess to be circulated into the system for general use without the danger of overloading the system.

Overall, the US Department of Energy estimates that the deployment of smart grids can cut the energy sector’s carbon emissions by 25%.

AI and IoT as the Data Backbone of Smart Grids

This benefit can only be realized if data is available to power the efficient and effective operations of smart grids. Two important and closely related components to feeding data into smart grids are artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things.

Artificial Intelligence at the Center of it All

AI is going to be the brain of the modern energy smart grid. According to Harvard University’s Franklin Wolfe: “[AI] will continuously collect and synthesize overwhelming amounts of data from millions of smart sensors nationwide to make timely decisions on how to best allocate energy resources. Additionally, the advances made from ‘deep learning’ algorithms, a system where machines learn on their own from spotting patterns and anomalies in large data sets, will revolutionize both the demand and supply side of the energy economy.”

How can this ability to manage big data move the needle in terms of sustainability?

AI will allow the energy sector to maximize the use of renewables and only use fossil fuels when necessary. In short, smart grids can take a renewables-first approach to energy production.

For example, if there’s enough or surplus supply in wind and solar power generation, the grid will pause using fossil fuels.

On the flipside, when there are not enough renewables available, it can revert back to using other fossil fuels.

At the end of the day, renewables are maximized which is good news for the planet.

IoT and Smart Meters

For the longest time, all stakeholders — the government, the energy producers and distributors, and the end users — were blind as to how people were using energy.

Everything changed with the application of the Internet of Things (IoT), leading to the implementation of smart meters.

IoT and smart meters enable a clear, accurate, and granular view of how each customer is using electricity. The data drill down ability is exceptional, allowing energy companies and customers to know how they are using energy down to the smallest appliances and down to the per-minute usage.

However, the mere installation of smart meters doesn’t guarantee more sustainability-driven energy usage. This is where IoT comes in. With IoT, smart meters and the data they collect are not just inert. Customers become behaviorally connected to the data. For example, a study by the University of California Davis found that when smart meters are coupled with IoT capabilities such as in-home displays and real-time dynamic pricing alerts, customers are able to cut energy usage by 11% to 14%.

Clean Data Leads to Clean Energy

According to the IEEE: “To enable being “smart”, a huge amount of data is exchanged between grid components and the enterprise systems that manage these components. Based on the application, information exchanged enables economically optimized bidirectional power flow between a utility and its customers. Data exchange is essential for controlling, monitoring and coordination between smart equipment in a smart grid subsystem. For optimal performance, big data analytics are a necessity.”

Easier said than done, but still, the first step to smarter and greener utilities is data provisioning. It requires a lot of heavy lifting, a lot of manpower hours, and a lot of resources.

But at the end of the day, it’s our one and only planet that we’re talking about. No shortcuts allowed. Plus, you don’t have to do it alone. You can partner with Big Data iPaaS companies that can help you with data provisioning and accelerate your transformation to becoming a smarter and greener utility.

Greenbird offers out-of-the-box system integration for utilities. We are a true DevOps company, delivering unique time-to-market and reliability. We were named a Gartner ‘Cool Vendor’ in 2018 because of our domain specific and flexible integration capabilities, crucial for creating easy-to-consume integrated solutions. Utilihive empowers utilities to manage their data flow faster and smoother than traditional system integration models while accelerating the journey towards the energy revolution. To learn how you can unleash the value of data while removing silos. Get the executive brief on Utilihive here.