How can we best use smart meter data? Creative solutions are starting to emerge.
By 2020 it is estimated that over 800 million smart utility meters will have been deployed in buildings around the world. China is expected to lead the pack with over 400 million smart meters. The United States will follow with around 120-130 million smart meters and the European Union, driven by commitments from 16 member countries, won’t be far behind. Japan and Australia are also early adopters, and India and Brazil will jump on the bandwagon soon. It’s clear from these statistics that over the next few years smart meter penetration around the world will grow rapidly.
What is a lot less evident, though, is how we will benefit from smart meters and how utility companies will use them effectively.
Some benefits are more obvious than others. Consumers will get an hourly, near real-time view of their energy consumption, and gone will be the days of energy bills based on quarterly or yearly averages – the current state for many people in Europe and other parts of the world. Also, utility companies in the developing world can bid goodbye to their manual “meter readers” who go around every month on a cycle or moped to check meters. The efficiencies derived from this are quite clear.
On the other hand, many utilities are ill equipped to handle the massive volumes of data that will start to pour in. Some of them have already started to “dumb” down their data by converting 15-min or hourly data into daily averages. Even those utilities that do maintain meter data in its most granular form often just use it for standard billing purposes and don’t try to gain any further insights from it. However, we are starting to see a few innovative and creative uses of smart meter data emerge. Here I’m sharing a couple of ideas that I’ve seen explored recently:
Switching your energy provider – Many countries have open energy markets in which consumers are free to choose their electricity or gas providers. However, Elering, the company managing the energy distribution backbone in Estonia, has gone a step further. They have set up a central data hub for all smart meter data from across the country. Consumers can, at the click of a button, share their energy history with a few utility providers and receive tailor-made offers from them. They pick the offer that’s most attractive to them and, with another click of the button, switch their energy provider
Predicting consumer behavior – I read a news story recently that talked about how water utility companies could tell when it was half-time at the FIFA World Cup matches just by looking at the volume of water flowing into the system from the flushing of thousands or millions of toilets. On a broader level than flushes, our utility usage patterns can tell a lot about us, and this data can be used constructively to provide us with more services. A few utility companies are starting to explore if they can use consumer data to deliver value added services such as home security and emergency assistance for the elderly or sick.
Flattening the demand and supply curves – One of the main challenges facing utility companies is that demand is not always even; there are clear spikes and troughs throughout the day. Some of these patterns can be predicted based on historical trends and some cannot. Making sure that the energy supply matches demand as closely as possible is a task that keeps utility geeks up at night. Smart meters can help them get more sleep. And some utility companies are already starting to combine this data with other factors such as weather forecasts and school vacation schedules to do a much better job of matching demand to supply
Smart metering websites and blogs are full of creative ways to use smart meter data. Now all we need is for utility companies to start to take advantage of it.