30 Grid Edge

Katherine Tweed: September 28, 2011

Smart Grid Roundup: Home Networks, Smart Meters, and Telecoms Join the Fray

Energate thermostats, British Gas picks Elster for dual meters, and what’s a negamile?

Home energy management is touted by some as one of the revolutions enabled by smart grid. But who’s going to pay for all of this stuff? Well, Oklahoma Gas & Electric is going to pay for at least 40,000 smart thermostats from Energate to achieve 70 megawatts in peak load reduction from residential and small commercial customers.

Utilities are starting to pay for these expensive devices up to a certain point because buying peak energy or building new generation is a lot more expensive. OG&E will be about two-thirds of the way into installing nearly 800,000 smart meters by the end of the year, which will give the utility information about who might benefit most from being enrolled in a demand response program.

But it won’t be as simple as just picking the biggest home energy hogs, said Mike Farrell, Director of Customer Programs at OG&E. The utility is looking to capture a broad swath of their customers. OG&E also hasn’t worked out the ratio of small commercial to residential customers yet, and know that their work is cut out for them when it comes to winning small commercial customers.

The current plan is to recruit for the program in January of 2012, and begin installations in February. To get there, OG&E is going to send out marketing messages to all customers, trying different drivers (green, money savings, control) and then whittle it down to what resonates with different groups. “We’re hoping to send something out to everyone and see what sticks,” said Farrell.

Using marketing feedback and smart meter data, OG&E can not only target customers who might benefit from tiered pricing programs, but customers themselves can also use a calculator to find the best rates for their lifestyle.

And it won’t just be big houses with pool pumps. Farrell said that in their pilot they found low income groups performed just below their high-income counterparts in terms of energy savings, with middle-income actually coming in last. OG&E is also revamping its messaging to make these programs resonate with customers. Step one: renaming the ‘variable peak pricing rate’ into something that doesn’t sound like utility gibberish. “Those names mean nothing to customers,” said Farrell. “We have to find a way to make it meaningful.”


In other news:

-- British Gas, which is deploying millions of smart gas and electric meters, has selected Elster as a qualified supplier for its meter deployment. Elster will join Landis+Gyr as a provider of dual meters. The agreement could be up to about a million meters for Elster.

“Elster has been collaborating with regulators and other innovative companies, like British Gas, to define the smart grid standards for the U.K. and Europe, and to deliver flexible solutions that will meet the needs of customers today and in the future,” Frank Hyldmar, executive vice president of Elster Electricity International, said in a statement.

The U.K. government has called for all households to have dual (electricity and gas) smart meters by 2020 -- a goal that will mean about 47 million devices will be put in place in the coming decade. The government has also recently announced a bid for the communications network, which is valued at $7.5 billion.

There seems to be space for everyone to play in the U.K. market, with in-home displays and web portals being a more prominent aspect of early metering rollouts than they were in the U.S. British Gas already has a stake in AlertMe and is using its products, but there will likely be various solutions to meet customers’ needs in a competitive market.


-- Speaking of AlertMe, although one of the company’s strategic investors is British Gas, it has always had an eye on telecoms. That focus has paid off. AlertMe recently announced a partnership with Deutsche Telekom, Germany’s largest telecommunications company.

The partnership is the first big telecom that AlertMe has landed -- and it's no small deal. Not only has this been part of AlertMe’s plan all along, but other home energy management companies are going the same way. Companies like Ecofactor and EnergyHub have platforms that could be provided through telecoms, something that both companies have expressed interest in.

Moving towards telecoms offers more flexibility in how consumers interact with their energy usage. Instead of an additional utility portal, it makes sense that your telecom might offer an app on your phone, or channel on your TV to manage your energy.

“We set out to be a service provider the same way that a mobile phone service is looking to be a service provider,” Pilgrim Beart, founder of AlertMe, told Greentech Media last year. “A lot of people are all about delivering products to the utilities, but we’ve always been focused on what the consumer wants, and how can you benefit the consumer whether they know they want it or not.”

Although there’s debate about the regulatory structure and desire for utilities to get into the home, some people in the market feel that once telecoms start making money off of utility customers, the landscape will change. Of course, most European utilities are less regulated than those in many U.S. states, allowing for more competition.

For telecoms, which are also interested in the communications for all aspects of smart grid, moving into connecting more devices in the home is a natural evolution. “We aim to lay the foundations of the connected home of the future,” Holger Knöpke, Head of Connected Home at Deutsche Telekom, said in a statement. “We focus on making everyday life easier and at the same time, fulfilling the demand of consumers on ecological aspects and costs.”


--On the meter data management front, Ecologic Analytics announced  Generation 3 of its meter data management system.  New features include a consumer web portal, pre-integration with Landis+Gyr Gridstream (L+G is also an investor in Ecologic), support for the upcoming version 2 of the Common Information Model, and cloud support that enables multiple organizations to access their own data and create their own applications on a shared instance of the MDM. 

The announcement bodes well for organizations looking to get up and running quickly.  According to John Galloway at Ecologic Analytics, organizations looking to get up and running quickly can benefit from the Landis+Gyr pre-integration, and by opting for Ecologics' cloud offering, "This approach can cut several steps from the process of going live with an end-to-end meter data management solution." The announcement helps Ecologic Analytics keep pace with eMeter, which also announced a hosted version made possible by a partnership with Verizon earlier in the year.

Ecologic Analytics also shows signs of breaking out from its three anchor clients (PG&E, Oncor and Puget Sound Energy), with recent client wins at Cleco, Indianapolis Power & Light, United Illuminating and Austin Energy. Success with these accounts will go a long way toward demonstrating that Ecologic can be a more nimble MDM player that can scale down as well as up.


-- BigBelly Solar continues to improve upon its waste management and recycling system while building an entire lexicon around its trash systems. The solar-powered waste compactors now come empowered with the sort of connected real-time communications platform that are also bringing visibility to the power grid.

Just as smarter power grids allow for utilities to send out less trucks to more precise locations, intelligence in BigBelly units allow for companies, institutions and municipalities to make more sophisticated decisions about waste management through two-way, real-time communications.

BigBelly has trademarked a new term to point to the cost-saving efficiency they deliver. The average customer can cut out 70 percent to 80 percent of trash collection trips, which BigBelly is calling a 'negamile,' similar to a negawatt for energy efficiency. Will it catch on or be as controversial as the negawatt concept? We’ll have to wait and see.

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