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How to Use Metering Data Beyond Billing to Create Value

image credit: Greenbird Integration Technology

Over the past 20 years, increased urbanization paired with the growing recognition of climate change has resulted in the rise of the clean energy economy. The clean energy economy relies heavily on the on-going development of renewable energy, distributed energy resources, and long-term energy efficiency at the grid-edge. These clean energy plans often neglect the importance of leveraging a tool that has been part of the energy distribution grid since nearly its inception: the meter. 

Historically, collecting meter usage data has been a manual task for most utilities. Automatic meter data collection was introduced in the mid-80s largely due to the emergence of AMR technology for water and energy metering devices. Today, smart meters can remotely collect consumption and diagnostic data and then transfer that data to a central database for billing, analyzing, and troubleshooting. As smart meter capabilities expand, it's important for utilities to understand how this technology can play a critical part in the clean energy economy. We will explore smart meters’ full breadth of capabilities and how they can promote energy efficiency at the grid's edge.

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The Evolution of Smart Meters

As more large-scale smart meter programs are rolled out, utilities are realizing that smart meters can provide , extremely detailed information on leaks, service quality, violations, and even security alerts. When applied through advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), this data can help power smart grid projects, smart homes, buildings, infrastructure, and a new level of innovation in smart city concepts.

According to research by Berg Insights, smart meter adoption has been growing steadily worldwide with nearly 45% of electricity customers in Europe and 60% in North America leveraging smart meters by the end of 2019. By 2025, those numbers are expected to exceed 70 - 80% adoption respectively. 

Image SourceU.S. Department of Energy Office of Electricity

As we see adoption rates of smart metering increase around the globe, they are proving to be valuable sources of data for utilities and their clients. Some of the ways smart meters are revolutionizing smart energy data include:

  • Measuring Power Quality: Smart meters provide more detailed information about power quality. They can detect when voltage and current waves are causing power distortion so utilities can proactively spot inefficiencies and minimize the ratio between real and apparent power.
  • Real-Time Power Consumption Data: Smart meters allow prosumers to access real-time information of energy usage across distributed energy resources. They enable prosumers to make data-driven decisions to streamline energy consumption and save on their annual utility bills.
  • Track Usage Time and Energy Disaggregation: Consumer, utilities, and retailers can harness smart meter data to disaggregate their electricity consumption for certain appliances and devices. Energy usage can be detected through data analytics, helping consumers reduce consumption and cut down on costs during peak hours.
  • Remote Control: Smart assets can be controlled and monitored remotely so utilities have real-time visibility over the health of devices and can troubleshoot proactively, which reduces the need for manual labor.
  • Support Distributed Networks: Utilities can monitor load management for their entire distribution network and use that information to distribute power equally across networks without suffering downtime.
  • Service Switching: Prosumers can switch seamlessly between service providers based on their preferences for renewables, tariffs, or supplier benefits.
  • Flexible Services: Prosumers and utilities can ensure security of their supply and maintain high-quality service efficiently by managing their production and consumption through service flexibility.

The new generation of smart meters is generating powerful data with the potential to do more for the clean energy economy. Smart meters can facilitate critical conversations between utility AMI investments and the grid to make the energy, water, and other utility services cleaner, more reliable, self-healing, and empowering for customers.

The Key to Unlocking Smart Meter Potential

Smart meters were originally built on basic outage management that touted cost-saving benefits to entice adoption, but largely fell flat of expectations beyond billing. This approach barely satisfied cost-benefit analysis and underutilized a company’s AMI. It relegated smart metering to getting consumption data and applying it to create invoices for the client. As big data integration and data lake storage adoption increase, so too does the shift towards leveraging smart meter data for more than just billing and cost savings.

Utilities are now beginning to ask themselves: “How can we leverage smart meters and big data to achieve maximum value for our customers, reach clean energy goals, improve service quality, and increase cost savings?”

By leveraging the next generation of smart meters, utilities can process millions of data points in real-time and distill them into actionable insights that benefit more than just their bottom line. Advanced visibility across the grid informs both operations and maintenance of asset health with actionable insights to address issues before they occur. Being able to detect anomalies before outages or other harmful system failures occur, offers sizable cost benefits and proactive customer service utilities needed in today’s competitive landscape.

Imagine being alerted to an electric outage before the customer calls it in. AMI powers utilities to send proactive communication to customers during an outage or when restoration is completed.

Using Smart Metering to Achieve a Clean Energy Economy

The future of smart meters is reliant on how we choose to optimize our data. Smart metering has come a long way in the past 20 years, but they are generating considerable amounts of data which remains untapped. When utilities learn to leverage that data and adopt an analytics-driven approach, they can extract the true value and harness the full potential of their smart meters. As global adoption numbers continue to climb, energy companies will need an architecture that not only manages big data, but makes it available to various market participants, helping to accelerate innovation and promote the energy transition.

Integration of prosumers who are producing and consuming energy at their home—with their own rooftop solar, for example—still requires flexibility services and infrastructure for peer-to-peer trading and other types energy sharing possibilities. However, data traditionally sits in a single DSO and therefore is not being shared. This harmful practice is stopping the value of smart metering from being realized.

The value of smart metering can be further increased by sharing and connecting distributed data sources—including data from weather, the grid, usage consumption, tariffs, and more. By enabling community-driven platform pitches, utilities can leverage a platform for sharing data with market participants and supporting prosumers in their pursuit of renewable energy.

Frederik ten Sythoff's picture
Thank Frederik for the Post!
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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Mar 1, 2021

Seems like there are so many opportunities to really engage the customer once these are more common-- not just provide services that on the backend make power cheaper/more affordable, but embracing customers as partners. Do you think that will be a priority for utilities installing AMI?

Frederik ten Sythoff's picture
Frederik ten Sythoff on Mar 2, 2021

Great question Matt. I believe that many utilities as well as utility departments are looking at a variety of data-driven initiatives that allow them to not only realize efficiencies but also put the client at the center of their business focus. I wrote an article posted earlier in my profile on Why Utilities should become Lifestyle Providers. I believe we have turned the corner and see that most forward looking utilities have now understood this and are placing customer experience at the heart of this push toward digital.

The key question Matt should be, are utilities deploying AMI first to later address their enterprise architecture? Or do they first ensure they have the infrastructure to be future ready as they transition to lean data-driven organizations able to serve their clients not only with reliable, affordable energy but also new service innovation.

We see both utilities that deploy AMI to later struggle with the wave of energy data that come their way. At most utilities still today more than 80% of the data is considered "dark data."

Other examples, like our recent client in Delhi, started their digital journey by implementing a data lake that would allow them to create a common platform for the entire value chain.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Mar 2, 2021

Wow-- I love the idea of 'lifestyle providers,' it really hammers home what a new utility could look like. 

Thanks for your follow up here, some thought provoking questions and some inspiration for the future!

Frederik ten Sythoff's picture
Frederik ten Sythoff on Mar 2, 2021

You are very welcome. That's why we all love the EC platform, right? Sharing insight with the community, address pressing questions and inspire new ideas that help accelerate digital transformation! Let's all connect and make the world a better place.

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