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How Can Energy Usage Data Be Leveraged to Benefit Consumers?

Data can be a valuable tool for better engaging consumers and developing improved products and services; however, there are still a lot of unanswered questions about how utilities and other organizations can safely utilize energy usage data for these purposes.

With their new Anonymous Data Service program, Commonwealth Edison is one of the utilities that is exploring this emerging area. As the Chicago-based utility nears the completion of their Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) deployment, they realized that one of the key impacts of their smart meter rollout could be the availability of interval energy usage data.

Before rolling out their data program, ComEd conducted secondary research to understand how this data could be used and who, in particular, would use it. The research determined that some of the potential third-party targets for this new offering would be retail energy suppliers, nonprofits, municipalities, educational institutions, tech companies, consultants and potentially even solar developers.

Next, the utility set out to determine exactly how much data would be useful to the most third-party participants and how to present this data to them. While a handful of interested parties had internal data-mining capabilities and wanted as much granular data as could be made available, some smaller organizations, on the other hand, were only interested in one or several zip codes. After weighing the various needs of potential future users, ComEd developed the first rollout of the Anonymous Data Service offering, a unique product in today’s market and potentially a sign of things to come.

The initial product offering for ComEd’s Anonymous Data Service includes up to 24 months of 30-minute interval energy usage data on a meter-per-meter basis – not aggregated. The data sets include data for all zip codes where AMI has already been deployed in ComEd’s service territories that, importantly, meet a data privacy protocol specified by the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC). This protocol is called the 15/15 protocol, meaning that within each data set there has to be at least 15 samples and not one of the 15 samples can have 15 percent or more of the group’s energy usage. The goal here is to not identify any specific customer within the data set.

Here's how the program works for third-party data requestors. Each month, ComEd generates and uploads the anonymous data files for the previous month. Interested parties can sign-up for the service on ComEd's Anonymous Data Service website and download the files after payment confirmation is received. External entities will then have a 35-day window to access the data files via ShareFile before access closes. Costs start at $900, depending on exactly which data set is being requested.

So how can a product like ComEd's Anonymous Data Service that allows for the secure transmission of interval energy data to third parties ultimately benefit consumers? Two nonprofit organizations based in Chicago – the Illinois Science and Energy Innovation Foundation (ISEIF) and Elevate Energy – recently discussed ComEd's new program, focusing on the potential benefits to consumers, during an SGCC webinar.

According to Clare Butterfield, the Program Director at ISEIF, the program represents a good shift in directionality for a major utility like ComEd. The grid was built for electricity to flow out from distribution utilities, and data to flow in. But data now needs to flow out as well. While this is a first good step, the program should go further in the future, Clare believes, and the next critical step is for consumers to gain access to their data and to be able to decide for themselves whether there’s a third-party service provider that they would like to share their data with.

Larry Kotewa, the Chief Engineer at Elevate Energy, echoed the same essential sentiment as Clare – this is a great first step for ComEd, but he would like to see the program expanded. While this is a rich, granular data set, Larry points out that currently users of ComEd’s program won’t be able to get a longitudinal understanding of consumers’ behavior due to the changing user ID numbers each month. Since so much of consumers’ energy usage depends on weather, Larry argues that this is currently somewhat of a drawback of the anonymous data sets; however, Larry also notes that ComEd customers can currently access their own energy usage data through the Green Button program, in which ComEd is a participant.

On the data privacy side, both Clare and Larry feel that the 15/15 protocol, which is one of many rules that applies for the ComEd program, really does provide individuals with adequate personal data privacy. It would be “extremely hard” to say that an anonymous ID belongs to a particular customer, according to Larry, and the Illinois Citizens Utility Board (CUB), a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that represent the interests of residential utility customers in Illinois, was actively involved in developing the 15/15 protocol.

As the proliferation of AMI continues across the country, the resultant interval usage data from consumers’ smart meters has the potential to be utilized for any number of cutting-edge innovations. While consumer data sharing programs, including Green Button Connect, are still in their early stages, ComEd’s Anonymous Data Service seems to be a step in the right direction toward empowering consumers and enabling a smarter energy future.

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