Punch and Judy and Energy Usage
Monday, April 19, 2010 at 06:21AM
Toby Considine in Smart Grid, Standards

The collection and display of energy usage information is a hotly contested area of smart energy standards. This small, seemingly obvious issue has generated more fights than all other issues, and more open political involvement. One model sees the utility collecting energy usage information and sharing that information later the customer or his designees. The other model sees the meter as an information appliance on the premises, just one of a number of real time information sources for demand side management.

For now, visibility is all. Up-to-the-hour energy bills on the web, and on our web-connected smart phones, are the first generation. This is a short-sighted goal. Mere energy charts on-line will not hold the consumer’s attention. Over time, consumer will go back to looking at other thing on the ‘net, or perhaps even occasionally be off line. Long term benefits will come from complete information models that spur completion to automate energy use decisions in response to the wishes of the consumer.

The real contest is over control of the customer interface, and thereby of the customer. Today's Google Energy and Microsoft Hohm pose no threats to the control of the customer by the utility. The utilities still can gate access to the back-end energy markets. Control of energy information prevents both intermediation and disintermediation in the energy market. Utilities also are desperate to justify their AMI investments at a time when many are calling for moratoriums and delays in deployment; AMI is part of a seamless model that includes control of the customer’s home as well as of access to information.

Each side in this debate is beating the other with a privacy stick. The CPUC has received complaints about non-resident (but bill-paying) consumers accessing usage information from the web. (A Berkeley student did not want Mom and Dad to find out that she spent her weekends elsewhere than in the apartment they were paying for.) The way ZigBee systems are usually installed by the utilities often grants access to nothing or everything, and the wireless mesh covers entire townhomes and apartment buildings; utilities argue that direct access could let you view your neighbor’s data.

Energy communication standards surrounding usage need to address four areas:

  1. What data is available to consumers? The short term need is usage visibility. Thereafter, the need is to support agents able to optimize the total home or commercial building experience. These agents will also compete to support zero net and off grid energy use, where the grid has minimal, or no effect. The utilities information model is not rich enough to support this.
  2. What clear language describes the energy used? Usage semantics begins with the Power and Load Management Common Information Model (IEC TC57 CIM). Consumers need other information including environmental aspects of energy choices, such as pollutants per kWh.
  3. Where is the source of the information? The utilities communication infrastructure will always limit the timeliness and frequency of utility-centric communication. Information directly from the meter is more timely and detailed, but lacks historical context. We must accommodate both.
  4. How is the information accessed? Historical information stored at the utility requires less operational security, but requires the most attention to consumer privacy. Information delivered from the on-premises meter to drive system decisions can be more complete but may vary from final billing. Data used by service providers to operate buildings requires both privacy standards and integrity guarantees.

The UCAIug has developed an application, OpenADE, that can provide near term access to information using today’s grid infrastructure. OpenADE is good enough to support the first generation systems. OpenADE is neither timely enough to support real-time operations nor an adequate information model for future applications. The standard must acknowledge the limited information models available from OpenADE.

The EIS Alliance had developed a larger information model to support tomorrow’s applications. The Alliance sees the meter as an information appliance for the consumer’s premises. The Alliance has proposed standards to put the consumer in control, while reducing integration costs for premises equipment. Live, well defined information exchange provides a platform for competitive technology markets.

The challenge for today is to ensure both backward compatibility with OpenADE and today’s infrastructure and forward compatibility with the unimagined future. That future will support disruptive business models as well as technologies. And that’s why the fights are so fierce over something that appears so simple.

Article originally appeared on New Daedalus (http://www.newdaedalus.com/).
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