Perspectives: Turning Big Data into Valuable Insights

By Marla Barnes

I recently attended a marketing workshop at which the instructors discussed, among other things, data … how to get it and what to do with it once you do get it.

As you undoubtedly know, data is all the rage these days. “Big Data” is one of those trendy buzzwords you see used everywhere — in boardroom presentations, in news headlines, and sprinkled throughout professorial lectures on college campuses.

A discussion about data invariably takes me back to 20-plus years ago, when the concept of using fancy new tools to continually measure equipment performance (i.e., “condition monitoring”) was just beginning to be introduced to the hydroelectric industry. One of the major benefits of condition monitoring being touted at the time was the ability to create volumes of data about the performance of a particular piece of equipment. Turns out, though, rather than being viewed as a benefit of condition monitoring, the availability of data …. especially overwhelmingly large amounts of data … was viewed as a detriment. The problem? It didn’t do a plant owner much good to have all that data if he/she didn’t have a way to interpret it and to make operational decisions based on that interpretation.

Having data is one thing. Knowing what it means and what to do with it is quite another.

In this special edition of Hydro Review, which we are calling the 2015 Market Outlook and Company Directory, our editors … led by Managing Editor Elizabeth Ingram … have gone above and beyond in providing you a plethora of data about the North American hydro market. I think you’ll be excited to see what they’ve put together for you in the form of handy, easy-to-consume, first-of-their-kind-to-be-compiled tables (see article beginning on page 8), which I predict you will reference over and over again.

As you study the data, I’m sure you’ll each come to your own conclusions about what stories it tells. Here are a few insights I take away after looking at the data:

Don’t underestimate the power of the public. The data clearly shows much of North America’s hydro is owned by public entities. While this fact comes as no surprise to most of you reading this, it does serve as an important reminder of the unique approaches and requirements of these public owners in terms of most everything regarding construction and operation of a power facility … financing, bidding for services and equipment, labor rules and regulations, and requirements regarding multiple uses of a water resource, to name just a few.

Canada is king when it comes to hydro construction. This country is a current hotbed of hydro construction. This presents a unique opportunity for this industry to observe, participate in, and learn from what’s happening in Canada. I can’t think of a better real-life laboratory to observe how to build new hydro sustainably and responsibly.

Diversity dominates. Of all the forms of power generation, I contend hydro wins the prize for being the most diverse when it comes to the types of contracts being issued and the types of financing required, evidenced by the data on pages 14 and 16.

Hydro matters. The data tells me this is an industry that’s sizeable, significant and vibrant. The numbers don’t lie!

Marla J. Barnes
Publisher and Chief Editor

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