By Tim Driscoll, Itron
Nathan Shannon, Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative
As utilities invest in grid modernization technologies, they are facing increasing grid complexity with renewable generation and distributed energy resources coming onto the grid; pressure to meet sustainability and environmental goals; and customer expectations for the same type of engagement with their utility as any other service provider. As utilities move toward building more sustainable and resilient communities, incorporating decentralized and customer-sited generation into the energy supply becomes increasingly critical. Distributed intelligence (DI), computer-like processing capabilities embedded in meters at edge of the utility grid, is essential to all these efforts.
Looking at energy through the lens of the consumer, there are many direct and indirect benefits from the modern, digital grid.
Utility Digitalization and the Prosumer
The evolution of digital technologies is changing the daily lives of people everywhere. When thinking retrospectively about the relationship between utilities and the end customer, there were limited programs and options to engage with consumers prior to AMI. Consumers are increasingly active prosumers interested in using data and consumer-friendly technologies to better manage their energy usage and cost. According to consumer research from the Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative (SECC), more than half of consumers (52 percent) are interested in home energy management technology, and about two-thirds (62 percent) are interested in receiving reports with personalized energy-saving tips.
Additionally, distributed energy resources (DER) are becoming increasingly pervasive, with consumers generating, storing and managing their own electricity to a degree not previously imagined. While DERs proliferate, “Consumers expect electricity providers to be involved in their DER journey. Whether it is as a provider or a trusted advisor giving recommendations, they want their electricity provider at the forefront,” according to SECC’s study, Distributed Energy Resources: Meeting Consumer Needs.
The emerging energy prosumer creates a healthy interdependent model between them and their utility. DERs enable greener and more reliable energy supplies locally, whereas the utility optimizes the new level of energy management complexity. A modernized grid with intelligence distributed to the edge of the grid is critical to managing this new dynamic.
Distributed Intelligence Platforms Provide Infinite Possibilities
DI platforms–meters with computers embedded that perform complex processing–provide utilities with a solid foundation on which to build the modern grid as well as the new relationship with consumers, including instant information about how energy is being used and consumed.
Using this information, utilities, third parties and consumers can work together through public-private partnerships and other means to provide advanced services and revenue streams to each other. Consumer energy services are a good example of the advanced services that utilities and third-party providers can provide consumers, including activities like leasing solar to the consumer or providing an energy arbitrage for those deregulated markets. Examples include solar plant providers that install solar panels on consumers’ homes in return for tax credits, EV charging companies that provide public EV charging stations, and smart device providers that provide consumer energy management and education services.
DI delivers the right information at the right place at the right time so that utilities can meet the demands of new use cases and create value for the consumer. Enabling smart meter technology that exists at the edge of the network, using intelligent connectivity and smart devices, is critical to allow new market opportunities to evolve and blossom.
Meeting Consumers’ Expectations for Innovative, Digital Experiences
Consumers are highly interested in programs, features and capabilities geared toward equipping them with energy information, time-of-use rates, appliance-level data, and DI is empowering utilities to meet their goals around cost savings and conservation.
Meting those goals is easier through DI technology, which gives consumers access to their consumption data through their meter over common WiFi. This dramatically reduces the complexity and cost of direct consumer access to information compared with previous AMI technologies, which required dedicated and proprietary radios for access. With DI technology, consumers can directly access their meters using their existing computers, tablets, and smartphones, rather than requiring that a dedicated “ZigBee gateway” hardware device be purchased and configured before data can be accessed. This is a clear consumer benefit.
With AMI data, apps for the meter can provide participating consumers with access to utility supported programs. Some examples include:
New Era of Innovation—Driving More Opportunities for Consumers to Contribute to Conservation Goals
It is important that utility DI platforms are built on standards and support integration of an ecosystem of third-party products. A vibrant partner ecosystem is essential to delivering ongoing innovation. Suppliers of these technologies invest in creating a developer community by supplying developer kits and technical support. Anyone can register in developer programs, and there are no upfront costs to participate. For example, Bidgely, one of Itron’s technology partners, is developing a DI app to support real time disaggregation for Itron’s RIVA meters. Bidgely is a provider of data driven solutions with a portfolio of customer analytics (personalization, segmentation) to grid analytics (TOU, EV, Load Research), and they are actively supporting the DI use cases Itron is delivering to utilities.
The goal of these types of DI programs is to enable a diverse set of device and application partners certified to work on networks and DI-enabled meters. This type of engagement with a comprehensive ecosystem of third-party solution and equipment vendors enables the broadest possible value creation for consumers. Because technology does not stand still, recruiting and engaging innovative solution providers around the globe to develop apps will ensure consumers have a variety of avenues to save. With partner solutions and services, underpinned by standards-based technology foundation (i.e., Wi-Sun), utilities can catalyze innovation and accelerate their digital transformation, while providing even more benefits to their end consumer.
As utilities enter the next era of AMI, which leverages distributed intelligence and open innovation, they are well positioned to plan for their future and align with customers’ needs.
Customer-centricity, lower energy costs, sustainability, and resiliency are the future for forward-looking utilities, and distributed intelligence is a key component to achieving these goals.
This article was submitted as part of a NARUC sponsorship agreement.