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If You're Not Collecting Data, Can You Be Managing Energy At All?

image credit: Source: EIA

Matt Chester's picture
Energy Analyst Chester Energy and Policy

Official Energy Central Community Manager of Generation and Energy Management Networks. Matt is an energy analyst in Orlando FL (by way of Washington DC) working as an independent energy...

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In looking around various energy management articles and publication, it seems undeniable that the collection of energy data is critical to the most successful energy management strategies. However, looking at data from the Energy Information Administration shows that less than 80 million advanced/smart metering infrastructure installations are installed across the United States-- 69 million in residential customers, 9 million in commercial, 365,000 in industrial customers, and about 1,400 in the transportation sector. 

While this figure certain represents progress, as only in 2013 did smart meters installed surpass one-way meters and by the end of 2016 total smart meters had doubled since 2010, I was still struck by how much opportunity to install smart meters and for utilities to engage in energy management must still be left on the table. 


This information is dismaying because the advantages of smart metering would suggest that virtually all customers and their power providers could stand to benefit from their installation, but the optimistic take is that this just means that there's so much more room for growth in this sector. 

The benefits of smart metering to energy management professionals are abundant and clear:

Smart metering allows peak demand reduction, monitor-based commissioning, monitoring of energy retrofits, and actionable intelligence on overall energy use (read more here). Customers will see benefits that include the ability to for automation, engage with a single source of truth regarding their energy systems, and plan out energy strategies (more here). Smart home energy management systems are in optimal model for demand side management from utilities. 


So given all these seeming win-wins for installing smart meters, why are they not installed in a vast majority of electric power customers? Is it the cost? Lack of awareness? Resistance from customers? 



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Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jan 11, 2019

Matt, there was a Seventh District Court decision in August which ruled data collected by smart meters was subject to the Fourth Amendment:

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated,..."

I guess it falls under the heading of resistance from customers. But for those of us who avoid virtual assistants and Google phones, the idea utilities want a piece of the action with their own "elf on the shelf" is more than a little creepy:

"The Seventh Circuit recognized that this energy usage data 'reveals information about the happenings inside a home.' Individual appliances, the court explained, have distinct energy-consumption patterns or 'load signatures.' These load signatures allow you to tell not only when people are home, but what they are doing. The court held that the “ever-accelerating pace of technological development carries serious privacy implications” and that smart meters 'are no exception.'"

Once again, we have Electronic Frontier Foundation to thank for pushing back against an invasion of personal privacy.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jan 11, 2019

Interesting information, Bob-- thanks for sharing! 

I definitely understand people's hesitance with regards to their data, privacy, and those type of concerns. Perhaps a key part to any smart metering strategy from utilities should come with a mandatory ability of the customer to opt out, if they're so inclined?

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jan 11, 2019

In my opinion, it should.

But then we're left with the quandary of how the process of utility ratesetting should occur. My guess is utilities would argue, "Hey, this Meinetz guy, we have no idea whether he's using electricity on-peak or off-, when he's taking a shower, when he's cooking a frozen pizza, any of that important stuff we gotta know.

"And how is his local Domino's franchise, who happens to be a client of Burbank Water, Power & Marketing, Inc., going to know he eats so much frozen pizza? That's important stuff they gotta know!

"We're just going to charge him a flat, on-peak rate. If he doesn't want to save money, that's his problem."


Sebastian Gray's picture
Sebastian Gray on Jan 15, 2019

This is interesting to see the US's statistics on smart metering. Its even more interesting to see that there are more residential meters installed than commercial and industrial. 

What I find disappointing is the use of the constitution to dissuade the implementation of smart meters to ensure better energy monitoring. 

Here in the UK, we have the exact opposite problem. Smart meters are an everyday occurrence for commercial and industrial businesses throughout the UK. However, the implementation of smart meters in residential and small business has been a complete disaster. 

The government launched the project in 2016, with the aim of installing 53 million by 2020. By September 2018, only 14 million had been installed. The entire project has been plagued from day one. 

The first set of smart meters known as SMETS1 were installed. the first problem was anybody wanting to switch energy suppliers had to have a new meter installed. This was due to them going dumb and not working with the mobile networks. (i.e Energy Company A ran on one mobile network; Energy Company B ran on a second mobile network). Further to this, these meters could not understand LED's. Ironic right? 

We now have SMETS2 being rolled out slowly. But due to the way the implementation of meters has gone. People are rejecting them. There is no legal requirement to have one. However, that has not stopped some energy providers secretly installing them and telling people it is mandatory. 

The programme’s cost has sky rocketed to an eye watering £14bn. With the (Parliament) Commons Science & Technology committee concerned the £6.2bn ROI will never happen. 
We are now at a stage where the big six energy suppliers are complaining about the cost of installation and pushing this cost on their customers.

My point is, it seems governments have failed to comprehend the way to correctly role out smart metering. This will set us back.

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