Last week, meter data management player Ecologic Analytics added another major customer to its roster when it announced that it won a deal to manage the data coming from 535,000 gas, electric and water meters for Colorado Springs Utilities . The Ecologic Analytics MDM is already being used by PG&E in one of the largest smart meter rollouts in North America. The latest deal adds Springs Utilities to a client roster that also includes Indiana Power and Light.
Ecologic Analytics is one of the pioneers in managing time interval data from advanced meters. The company cut its teeth on Puget Sound Energy way back in 2000 when it implemented what was at that time the largest time-of-day pricing program in the United States. Since that time, Ecologic Analytics has steadily built its platform to make it suitable for large-scale, mission-critical smart grid assignments. Key strengths include high throughput error checking for meter readings and integrated outage management capabilities to deal with smart meter "alarm storms" caused when thousands or even millions of meters suddenly issue an SOS -- a technical challenge utilities never faced in the old days when outages were reported by telephone and inbound callers could be put on hold with nice music. See my recent meter data management report for an in-depth analysis of meter data management technologies.
I had a chance to catch up with John Galloway, EVP of Sales and Marketing, about the deal, the market, and Home Area Networks (HAN), which many consider to be the final frontier of the smart grid. First, the Springs Utility deal. According to Galloway, plans include pulling multiple commodities into a common customer view. "This is part of a broader initiative that includes programs to further enable customer energy management and distributed renewable generation. Springs Utilities wants to engage customers across the board on multi-commodity consumption."
A separate (Greentech) observation to keep in mind: the smart grid isn't just about electricity. Water management and use is becoming a big deal in the arid West and drought-stricken Southeast. This is an oft-overlooked aspect of the smart grid. Expect advanced water meter rollouts to accelerate and MDM systems to be called on by municipalities to manage water data, and to help homeowners identify leaks and pre-empt nasty surprises. Time-of-use water data comes in handy to enforce water restrictions as droughts and new aquifer draining residential developments. Rolling lawn watering restrictions, including outright bans or odd-even rotations are becoming the norm during hot summers. Smart water meters provide a remote monitoring solution to enforce restrictions and meter data management systems are needed to turn the data into actionable information.
Galloway sees strong demand for meter data management systems. "The market is definitely heating up. We have a number of proposals out and we are optimistic that we will have an opportunity to participate. There's better clarity on how to apply Smart Grid Investment Grant (SGIG) money." But SGIG sweepstakes winners are not the only ones moving in the market. According to Galloway, "Colorado Springs is a good example of a project not tied to the Smart Grid Investment Grant. The technology makes sense, and it's the right time."
So far, so good, right? Smart meters are great and MDM is certainly a necessity, but when will consumers get detailed consumption data that will help them put their homes on energy diets?
This is a big unanswered question, especially for utilities busily rolling out smart meter deployments. Many MDM vendors are working with their utility customers to build web portals that deliver consumption data to consumers. This is a good thing. But utilities are expending a lot of time and money to deliver one aggregate consumption data point for each home, albeit every 15 minutes or hourly. Unfortunately, one data point is not enough for homeowners to monitor and rein in energy hogs like dehumidifiers, hot water heaters, and phantom power consumers like chargers, big-screen TVs on standby, and more. For more granular consumption data, the consumer needs to turn to home energy management systems (an industry segment referred to vaguely as HAN or home area networking). For now, HAN is a pricey, less-known corner of the power world with a confusing array of energy management gadgets and devices .
Smart meters are a great enabler for utilities, but HAN provides a friendly consumer interface and the type of detailed data needed to understand and manage their home energy footprint. These tangible consumer-facing benefits are largely absent in residential smart meter version 1.0. By my reckoning, a hands-off industry approach to HAN is a bad idea and a recipe for failure. After all, what good is a smart grid without smart homes -- and smart homeowners? Smart meters are merely a gateway into the home; a first step in the journey to home energy management. The industry needs to get to work figuring out how to bring consumers into the energy management game. If not, little ripples of consumer backlash against smart meter rollouts are liable to turn into a sea of discontent. When it comes to satisfying fickle tech-savvy consumers, there is no rest for the weary. This is especially true for companies like Colorado Springs Utilities that promise consumer energy management solutions.