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January 10, 2020

Utilities Sitting on Energy Data Goldmine

George Leopold

Billions of dollars have been invested over the last decade or so in smart meters intended to reduce energy usage and achieve savings. A new study finds that utilities have largely failed to tap data that might yield those savings.

A report released this week by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy found that the 52 U.S. utilities surveyed “vastly underused” advanced metering infrastructure. AMI is defined as smart meters, communications networks and data management. The energy group estimates that infrastructure connects half of all smart meters in the United States.

Part of the problem, the council said, is the failure of utilities to development new customer engagement tools, assuming instead that installation of smart meters alone would change customer behavior and yield energy savings.

“To optimize AMI’s potential for energy savings, utilities may need to overcome regulatory, technological, and structural barriers and take steps to invest in complementary systems and workforce, prioritize the customer experience, and pilot new approaches and ways of leveraging the data,” the group said in a blog post reporting its findings.

Smart meters and accompanying infrastructure measure and transmit energy usage data about once an hour rather than monthly, generating what the energy group said “timely, granular data” that could be used to manage and optimize grid operations. Nevertheless, big data use cases among utilities are scarce.

In a single case, the report found that Portland General Electric is adding capacity to optimize its existing infrastructure to conserve energy. The Oregon utility is focusing upgrades on real-time feedback to customers—significant during a mid-summer power outage when angry customers tend to get recorded messages or chatbots from utilities.

Other use cases include time-of-use rather than fixed pricing and applying smart meter data for new grid connectivity scenarios such as energy efficient buildings and voltage reduction.

The survey also found that customer behavior feedback and time-of-use energy use were the most common applications of AMI data.

The report notes that energy regulators need to provide utilities with more incentives to leverage data generated by smart meters. “Regulators will need to recognize, support, and promote the energy-saving benefits of AMI in investment approval and oversight,” the report notes. “In many cases, they will need to establish protocols for data access.

Download the smart meter data report here.

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