From smart meters to wind energy, Texas was an early mover in clean energy. The state's deregulated energy market, which features dozens of competitive retailers jockeying for customer loyalty, is ripe for more innovation.
But energy service providers looking to layer distributed energy services are not very active in the market, according to a new report from the South-central Partnership for Energy Efficiency as a Resource.
Even with guidance from regulators and the creation of Green Button Connect, sharing smart meter data information with third parties is an onerous process in Texas.
“While many of the utility, wholesale settlement, and competitive electric retail benefits envisioned for the deployment of [advanced meters] are being realized,” the report states, “the engagement of customers with competitive energy services providers is not among them.”
Texas is not alone, and in many ways it’s still ahead of other states. For demand response programs, for example, aggregators of residential customers like EnergyHub do not need access to smart meter data to sign up customers into bring-your-own-thermostat programs. Instead, the grid operator ERCOT does the measurement and verification, so the aggregators need limited customer data. By contrast, California just started simplifying its process for distributed energy aggregators to participate in wholesale markets.
On paper, Texas’ process is fairly straightforward for sharing meter data. Third parties can register on the Smart Meter Texas portal to access meter data with a customer’s permission and then sell services to that customer. About 100 companies have signed up. As of August, however, there are fewer than 1,800 data-sharing agreements out of the 7 million smart meters in Texas.
“The low volume of energy data sharing agreements to date is likely related to the fact that consumers have come to expect a certain level of simplicity and convenience, especially in online services,” the report states.
It’s true. Energy services, whether provided by utilities or other third parties, are still far away from the one-click experience of online commerce.
In Texas, and in many other utility processes, customers need to know their utility account number. EnergyHub, which administers residential demand response programs, has found that when an account number is required, there’s an 84 percent drop-off in initial customer uptake. Very few people can be bothered to go look up their account number.
For a third-party company looking to help customers comparison-shop for retailers or price out energy-efficiency upgrades, it is a 10-step process for customers to sign up to share their data. According to the study, information requirements could be reduced by two-thirds while still ensuring data privacy.
Some of this could be solved by uptake of Green Button Connect, rather than the earlier iteration of Green Button that Texas has adopted. But even that does not get to the one-click experience. “Green Button Connect is a middle ground,” said Erika Diamond, VP of energy markets for EnergyHub, “but it’s not like buying something on Amazon.”
It is important to remember that Texas, along with California, is far ahead of many other states. And yet, a decade into deploying smart meters, people cannot easily share their data with companies that want to offer them new services.
It is not enough to have a regulatory statute on paper that says data sharing can occur; the process must be built and envisioned in a way consistent with other services, such as banking.
The experience in Texas is important for many other states, especially Massachusetts and New York, that are rolling out millions of smart meters. To truly be successful, these investments must provide convenience to customers on their terms -- and that starts with data sharing.