Archive for June, 2009

What would prove to you that the Smart Grid is advancing?

The folks at eMeter are involved in quite a few projects with utilities seeking American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) 2009 funding for Smart Grid. We believe good IT solutions can make the reporting process easily transparent, and less onerous for both utilities and for the watchdogs who will be checking Recovery.org for signs of progress.

We’d like to see your thoughts. What performance metrics and milestones would prove to YOU that Smart Grid implementations are progressing, and that our tax dollars are truly advancing the Smart Grid? Post comments with the link below, and we will publish them (after the usual spam-screening process).

– Chris King

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June 18, 2009 at 8:44 pm 1 comment

Giving customers more of a stake in Demand Response programs

UtiliPoint International has posted another article in a series which points out a problem we have as an industry.  In his article, George Campbell considers Demand Response (DR) programs that repeatedly fizzle out. He suggests that a big problem in DR programming has been a lack of agreement among stakeholders about definitions, and that public policy could be more effective if we had a more cohesive and organized way of viewing and defining terms. He then goes on to offer a detailed typology and taxonomy of Demand Response methods, products, and jargon – a long scroll of charts, numbered lists, bullet points, and tables.

The article becomes an ironic example of what we think is the real problem with DR. To wit: these programs are designed by utility-thinkers. Because they are developed with objectives of grid stability and reliability, they must be assessed with a complicated system of metrics. Many of the demarcations and dependencies only exist to serve the utility’s siloed system of service delivery. All these things, the average customer couldn’t understand – and if they did, they wouldn’t really care that much (but for a few).

We have been to public utility commission meetings assessing DR programs all across the country. When asked why they don’t enroll in DR programs, one of the most common reasons that customers give is that they just don’t understand the value proposition. Merely defining the list of terms better won’t help if that list is too long, or if the customer benefits are buried under sub-categories. We may rightly care about the distinction between load shifting and conservation, or how to justify a resource as spinning reserve, but this is all back-office shop talk from which consumers should be spared.

The turning point in this process is the CUSTOMER. What do customers want?  This is where real innovation and marketing need to come into play, and it will not be developed by utility & meter-heads sitting in PUC-sponsored working groups. Let’s bring all our experience to bear in making a solution based on customer demands. It’s the difference between selling customers a Radio Shack kit with 10-page instructions and asking them to build a piece of network infrastructure to serve us – oh, and it sort of plays music, too; versus selling them a well-designed little MP3 player that simply does what they want. Which would you choose?

– Larsh Johnson

June 15, 2009 at 3:58 pm

How much bandwidth do you really need?

More iPhone musings

In a recent post we made the case that consumers are already benefiting from smart metering, because it is such a game-changer to have this much available intelligence about energy usage to begin with. What is the path from here to truly enlightened consumption – that nirvana of every cost-benefit analysis of smart metering?

eMeter bloggers, having worked with meter data for 20 years,  think the answer is to translate the data into Convenience, Cost Savings, and Community: save money easily while helping the environment.

Cameron Brooks of Tendril stated at a CPUC workshop on Smart Grid that if every home and business in the United States had a smart meter, the data could be captured on 100 iPhones. Let’s tease this statement out a bit. Data volume (simple, raw gigabytes) must not be confused with data transactions. Sure, you could store a day’s worth of raw data from 140 million meters in 100 iPhones, but so what? We can’t think of anything useful an iPhone could do with it (such as prepare it for billing and deliver it to a billing system). You could probably extract one person’s data and graph it, but you couldn’t do that for 140 million people.

Brooks’ real point was that ubiquity and access are more important than bandwidth.

The simple fact is, there are no benefits without IT. The IT side should not be a barrier, and it isn’t – but not because IT is easy. The IT part is actually very, very hard; however, it is not expensive (it’s less than 5% of the total AMI capital investment).  And utilities like Alliant and those participating in Canada’s centralized MDM/R havealready overcome those IT challenges .

If electricity users are to be full beneficiaries of the energy trading market, we need to get to the granularity of hourly interval data; we want both consumers and producers to have complete and timely access to this knowledge for decision-making; and we want well-designed choice architecture so that on both ends, the most efficient and beneficial options can be exercised. On the IT side, all this can happen if we continue to automate data exchange, set national communication standards for the smart grid, and make metered usage data available in formats easy for energy management software to interpret for users.

Fresh thinking around this is going on right now at Connectivity Week… We’d love to hear your comments.

– Chris King

June 10, 2009 at 5:10 pm Leave a comment

Are consumers benefiting yet from smart metering?

(or… “iPhones and AMI”)

eMeter attended several Smart Grid workshops recently at the California Public Utilities Commission. The common theme was reaping the consumer benefits of Smart Grid, and a big question was “how quickly can we do this?” It is a timely topic. AMI meters are getting rolled out in significant numbers amid great fanfare. Google heralded the arrival of its PowerMeter widget. But do these converging events live up to the promise of bringing energy awareness to the masses? The answer is “not yet”…but there is no reason to be bitterly disappointed.

Among the blog sites voicing pessimism about consumer benefits, Katie Fehrenbacher of Earth2Tech and Energy Circle’s blog about Hydro One’s Smart Meter deployment both argue that consumers don’t benefit from smart meters because they don’t have access to real-time usage data yet. While we agree that the more real-time the data is, the more meaningful action can be taken, we think it’s crazy to say that consumers don’t benefit.

When you think about it, AMI is already a game-changer for consumers. Already, hundreds of thousands of consumers with smart meters have access to detailed, next-day usage data on the Web, introducing them to the concept of their hourly usage and its impact on their bills and on the environment. And because of smart metering capabilities, participants in Pepco’s PowerCentsDC  “Smart Grid Capitol” project have had the benefit of email, phone and text messages alerting them to energy saving opportunities during critical peak times for the grid  – combined with smart thermostats providing the convenience of automatic, “set it and forget it” demand reductions.  They also get monthy print bill inserts with colorful explanations of their hourly usage and highlighted cost savings from participation in the program.  The enhancements and transparency are already liberating.

You may not be getting up-to-the-second alerts on your iPhone about kWh consumed, but is all that broadband “bling” really necessary? This is what it looks like updated to Twitter posts… as far as iPhone apps go, we think the ocarina is more interesting.

– Chris King

June 9, 2009 at 6:33 pm Leave a comment


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