Congressional Representative Ed Markey, one of the sponsors of the omnibus energy bill that remains in legislative limbo, has introduced the e-Know bill that proposes to secure the privacy of individuals as well as give them access to data about their daily power consumption.
The bill follows a broadband strategy unfurled by the Federal Communications Commission that goes into detail on how energy will become a larger part of the internet.
A lot of what Markey talks about could be music to the ears of Microsoft, Google, Intel, Cisco and the many startups that hope to get into energy management. The bill proposes a plan that would allow customers access to information about their power consumption in real time.
Are consumers going to constantly ping the web to see if their power bills are climbing? Probably not after a few days of trying it, but the data will greatly improve the business opportunities for the companies named above. Right now, those companies don't actually have real-time access to consumer data. Microsoft's Hohm builds a computerized simulation of your house and then tells you what you should be consuming. Demand response companies, and some companies working on smart meter trials, do get to use real time data, but all of those services are run in conjunction with the utilities.
This bill would free this data from the tight control of the utilities, only 35 percent of which have plans to open up that data to consumers, according to Markey.
The California Public Utilities Commission has hearings on this same subject slated for Friday.
Whether you think this is good or bad depends on your perspective. Could it save energy? Sure. Will third parties move faster than utilities? Yes. But are utilities already organizing efforts to reduce power consumption? Yes. PG&E is contemplating plans to give homeowners data on a day-delay basis. Should we really change energy policies so Microsoft, Apple and Google can hawk more products to the American public?
“With my e-KNOW bill and a new, American-built smart grid, the same people who work on killer apps for an iPhone will now help you know how much energy you use from your iFridge, iStove, or iToaster," Markey's office asks. What? No iNeon Hamm's Beer Clock in the den?
Is there a provision that will force third-party companies to compensate utilities for gathering and retaining this data so they can sell iFridges? Don't forget: many big utilities are shareholder-owned. It's not publicly-subsidized data like the numbers from the Census Bureau. Who is liable for security breaches?
It's not so cut and dried. The debate should be interesting.