CIO Review >> Magazine >> June - 2013 issue

Empowering Utility Customers through Smart Meter Technology

By

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Pritesh Gandhi Founded in 2001, the Boston based Ambient Device is a provider of wireless solution. The Boston based company has received $10.3 million from New York Angels, First Round Capital, Rose Tech Ventures, Nicholas Negroponte and 406 Ventures.

With the introduction of smart meter technology, utility companies are experiencing a seismic shift in the amount of information that they are processing. Today, electric energy consumption information is primarily used internally for analytics and diagnostics purposes within an individual utility. However, given the significant investment made in building the smart meter infrastructure, and in many cases with public funds, the demand for consumer access to this information is growing. Utility companies must provide greater value to their customers by offering access to user-friendly information, thereby increasing the power of information gathered by smart meter technology.


With little change over the past few decades, the typical interface between a consumer and their utility is limited to the monthly bill sent to the consumer by the utility and the occasional call from a consumer to their utility during a power outage. These conversations are essentially monologues and have been efficient given the small amount of information exchanged.


As more information is generated through smart meter technology, these conversations need to move towards a dialogue that provides greater transparency to the consumer. While there have been some examples of utilities that have proactively addressed these communication challenges, for the most part, customer engagement using data is uncharted territory.Large investments have been poured into web-based interfaces that allow consumers access to information ranging from real-time consumption and pricing to historical billing data, but this is only the beginning.


A broader embrace of consumer facing technologies must be on the roadmap of any utility company that has invested in smart meters. In order to make a sustainable impact, it is important that information is available in an actionable format – where a consumer can change their current behavior in real-time, not after the fact. In this context, consumers will be able to turn down the air conditioning or delay a load of laundry based on the real-time information available to them. Empowering customers with actionable information is especially vital in markets where utilities have implemented variable pricing programs based on time of day or tier of overall consumption.


Consumers in these markets have a stronger desire to be informed on real-time conditions, as this information affects their daily electricity consumption decisions.
A balanced level of highly summarized, intelligible metrics that allow consumers to make sensible choices is critical to optimize the information available through smart meters. Providing access and presenting information in a format that allows consumers to quickly discern what action is appropriate based on their subjective, real-time conditions is the challenge that utilities will need to address as smart meters become the norm.