Will the rapid growth of big data just drive up energy consumption or will it end up being the source of the very solutions that drive the next big breakthrough in energy efficiency?  This is one of the many things I pondered last week at the “Applications of Analytics & Machine Learning in Energy” workshop held by the Georgia Tech/UNC co-led South Big Data Hub, an effort funded in part by grants from the National Science Foundation.

The event was a refreshing eye-opener to me for a number of reasons. First, I got to see my daughter Elisabeth’s new school--Georgia Tech--literally alive with the energy of learning, discovery, and innovation. She is a starry-eyed freshman now studying civil/environmental engineering there so I snuck her away for a Subway sandwich lunch.  As I related to her what we were talking about in the workshop she asked, “So what’s the big deal with big data in energy?” I explained that some of the new systems being researched and deployed by companies in the industry hold incredible promise to mitigate the adverse effects of energy extraction on the environment. She agreed with me and said, “You’re right Dad, that sounds like a very big deal!”

And the hustle and bustle wasn’t just from the kids on campus, there were more than a few grey haired industry friends at the forum learning with me.  Most people I spoke with agreed this “big data thing” and associated breakthroughs in cognitive computing present entirely new opportunities for the energy industry.  I still think we will see the energy version of “Hal” sooner than any of us thought. 

Second, I got to see in person why the US model for applied research innovation leads the world with its unique blend of academic genius and commercial savvy.  With no hint of corporate hubris, and a spirit of true shared learning, I watched some of the brightest minds from leading energy companies such as BP, GE, Southern Company, and PJM openly share challenges and ideas with leading data science researchers from Georgia Tech, University of North Carolina, Texas A&M, Indiana University and more.  The industry speakers framed their needs and challenges and the academic research community listened intently, asked great questions, and presented some of their new research that may hold solutions.  In the afternoon stakeholders participated in workshops designed to inform a “Presidential Letter” aimed at helping guide the incoming US administration in the area of big data in energy.   

Lastly, as school is in session now around the USA, I’ve had an epiphany on the need for energy industry-wide continuous education in the areas of big data, machine learning and cognitive computing. While I don’t see myself pulling a Rodney Dangerfield and going Back to School, it was great to be a student again for a day. Things are moving quickly and it’s exciting.  When it comes to energy big data, no matter what smart people tell you, we’re all still students. As energy industry researchers, we should never stop dreaming big, just like we did back at school!  It’s in this spirit that we invite you to download our latest energy marketing benchmark report. 

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