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Video: A rare look at power grid management with big data visualization

An inside look at displaying energy data in California.

On its own, California would be in the top 10 economies in the world. So keeping power supplied to the vast U.S. state comes with a lot of pressure.

“If we fail, we get calls from the Governor, calls from DC if it’s bad—every hour, saying, when will the lights be back on,” said James McIntosh, Cal ISO director of Grid Operations.

Cal-ISO facilitates the management of power lines throughout the state. It’s not the only company to do it, though managers say this facility is the most up-to-date.

Its control room likes like something out of a movie, where specific desks are charged with big tasks—like wholesale brokering of energy into California and management of emergency power line failures. Real-time power outputs for green technologies are all displayed on this screen. Green bars show which wind farms and solar fields in the state are producing power, most of which aren’t producing any energy at the moment.

The goal here is to buy as much renewable energy as possible, so all other power is bought or quickly traded after that. By 2020, the state mandated goal for renewable energy is 33 percent.

But until a year ago, Cal ISO was trying to manage all of the complicated and multi-layered information and data it uses in a much different way.

“It looked like a 65-foot long wall with tiles, and we’d be post-its on it, like oh there’s a fire over here.”

This wall full of pertinent information, from weather to power line grids, was designed for Cal-ISO by Space-Time Insight, a company that specializes in data visualization. The display is unique not in how much information it collects, but how it can break down about 30 separate data streams, some of them from power meters, regional grids or weather information from a central hub, then quickly convert it into easy-to-digest graphics.

As information increases, employees are coming into the most stressful season, which is actually wintertime. That’s because so many areas of grids are routinely shut down for repairs then, as are power plants.

In Folsom, California, Kerry Davis, IDG News Service.

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