It's the morning after, and Pacific Gas & Electric might be in a position to tell you what happened soon.
As part of an overhaul of its web site, the northern California utility is contemplating allowing customers to access data about their daily energy consumption on a day-after basis, said Andy Tang, the senior director of the smart energy web at Pacific Gas & Electric, during a panel at the UC Berkeley Energy Symposium.
Additionally, PG&E may also give consumers data on the power consumption of similarly situated households -- although the information will be thoroughly scrubbed and anonymized for the sake of privacy -- so that consumers can see how the compare against their neighbors in terms of energy consumption.
The utility is also contemplating providing online alerts when consumers are approaching new, higher pricing terms.
"Based on your current rate of consumption, you are heading toward a high power bill," the warning might say, said Tang.
The idea behind these program is to give consumers tools to reduce their own power consumption. These programs, however, also potentially impinge on the business plans of some start-ups. OPower, for instance, gives consumers data on their power consumption and tells them how they compare to their neighbors. (In general, the company has found that people won't change their consumption much to save the earth, but they will reduce power consumption if they feel they are slothful or wasteful compared to their neighbors, so basically it's shame as a business model.)
Meanwhile, Tendril Networks and others have come up with software interfaces to warn consumers when they are approaching peak power rates. Google and Microsoft have also prepared home energy consoles that they would ultimately like to tie into consumer power consumption data so they can build or market energy services.
If PG&E performs these tasks on their own, other utilities could follow suit and thereby reduce the opportunities for start-ups. On the other hand, utilities often enlist partners, so these programs could become avenues for business opportunities. Last year, Tendril's CEO Adrian Tuck said that one of the growth opportunities in smart grid lay in selling software to utilities. OPower sells its service through utilities. So this could be a good thing for all the new guys.
Active, dynamic data on power consumption could also cut down theft and fraud. Rob Conant, a Dust Networks alum now at Trillant Networks, says that one client in the Caribbean wondered about its high power bills. Close monitoring of consumption allowed them to figure out that employees were stealing power from the residence.
In California, PG&E had a consumer that used power only five days a month. The utility investigated. It turned out that the customer had tinkered with the meter to fool the meter reader.
Other fun grid facts: PG&E expects 35 different types of plug-in cars to arrive over the next 18 months.