New York utility Consolidated Edison is promising that its $1.3 billion smart meter rollout will bring its customers a lot more fine-grained and timely data on their energy use than most utilities have delivered to date.
That’s partly because today’s smart meters are a lot smarter than those of previous generations -- and partly because New York’s Reforming the Energy Vision (REV), and advocates for third-party access to utility data, have demanded it.
Last week, after months of wrangling over details, the New York Public Service Commission (PSC) approved a final plan for Con Ed’s six-year AMI deployment. We’ve already covered many details of the plan, including the choice of Silver Spring Networks as networking and communications provider, and meters from the former General Electric metering business bought by Aclara.
But buried in the 52-page order are some significant data-sharing requirements, many of which go beyond the utility’s original plan.Those include enhanced granularity of data, with residential electric meter reads every 15 minutes, rather than an original proposal of hourly data. (It's every five minutes for non-residential customer meters.)
Con Ed has also pledged to deploy Green Button Connect, an emerging standard for facilitating data transfer between utilities, customers and their approved third parties. That’s something it originally didn’t support, but has come around to promising to implement as part of a broader plan, due at the end of July, that will lay out some of the more complicated, and less well-defined, aspects of the utility’s customer engagement strategy.
“While the Company’s filing articulates goals related to customer engagement, little detail is provided on how the Company plans to achieve its goal,” the PSC’s order notes. For that reason, last week’s approval is “conditioned on a detailed plan from Con Edison to provide for the continuing engagement of customers and third parties.”
This must include a customer engagement plan including a formal privacy assessment, formal data access and privacy policies, Green Button Connect implementation, data privacy and access principles, and one or more pilot projects. This data access should include “accommodation of web and smartphone applications offered by third parties that allow customers to view their usage and energy costs in real time as well as cumulatively,” the order notes.
Smart meters will also be required to enable all customers to participate in demand response programs, provide a means for customer engagement with the New York State Independent System Operator markets, and eventually enable the Distributed System Platform functionalities required under the state’s REV proceeding.
“The Company is to strive to maximize third-party provider participation (e.g., smart thermostats, other smart home equipment, electric vehicle charging, demand response aggregators,solarand battery vendors, etc.),” the order states.
To make it worth the utility’s while, Con Ed can find ways to share the benefits of opening third-party access to AMI data with its own shareholders, the order noted:
“The total expenditures approved in this order will act as a cost cap, with the potential for the Company to enhance its earnings by working with third parties who offer alternative solutions or deployment approaches that can reduce costs and/or generate new revenues, which will primarily benefit ratepayers, with an appropriate share of savings as an incentive for the Company.”
One of the big questions still left unanswered is how Con Ed may seek to charge customers for these enhanced data-sharing features. This will be a big area of focus for groups representing New York customers, as well as the companies that want a piece of New York’s emerging market for distributed energy resource (DER).
“Con Ed asked for $15 million to implement [Green Button Connect], and the utility indicated hourly data would be without charge, but the issue is not off the table for more granular data, such as 15-minute readings,” according to Mission:data, a group representing companies such as SolarCity, Stem, Bidgely, PlotWatt, Ecofactor, BuildingIQ, EnerNOC and Icontrol, as conveyed in a statement released this week. “The Commission’s order addresses overall implementation of AMI, but stops short of resolving the issues of what fees, if any, would be appropriate.”
Some of the early work is already paid for. Con Ed’s current electric rate plan provides $68 million this year to build out its meter data management and meter asset management system, and associated integrated software systems, which should help it avoid the operational challenges that have dogged utilities with large-scale AMI deployments of years past.
Con Ed has also been working on a “Digital Customer Experience” program to allow customers data access using the Green Button format, provide graphical historic data and proactive usage alerts, and provide for data disaggregation to allow customers to identify efficiencies, among other features. This program, which is separate from the utility’s AMI deployment, “will provide much of the funding and customer access functionality that Mission:data purports is missing from the current AMI Business Plan,” the order noted.