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Distributed Intelligence: Empower Consumer Control and Uncover New Possibilities

Consumers today want their utilities to provide an experience like any other service provider, offering the same control and transparency. User-friendly smart meter technology has allowed consumers to play a bigger role in managing their energy usage and cost. But to give customers true command of their energy consumption, the industry needs distributed intelligence technology.

Leveraging Rich Distributed Intelligence Data Delivers New Opportunities

Distributed intelligence (DI) is a key part of Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) 2.0. DI platforms are meters that leverage embedded computing resources to perform complex processing. This technology gives utilities a foundation on which to build the modern grid as well as a new relationship with consumers, including the sharing of real-time information about how energy is being used and consumed.

Armed with this data, utilities, third parties, and consumers can collaborate through public-private partnerships to provide new services and revenue streams to one another. Consumer energy services are a good example of the advanced services that utilities and third-party providers can provide individuals, including activities like leasing solar to the end-user or providing an energy arbitrage for those deregulated markets. For example, consider solar energy companies that install solar panels on peoples’ houses in return for tax credits, electric vehicle (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.

Putting Consumers First

Consumers are highly interested in programs, features, and capabilities geared toward equipping them with energy information, time-of-use rates, and appliance-level data. DI is empowering utilities to meet their goals around cost savings and conservation.

Connecting with those goals is easier through DI technology, which gives consumers access to their consumption data through their meter over common Wi-Fi. 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, individuals 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.   

DI apps provide participating consumers with access to utility supported programs. Key examples include:

  • Excess Usage Identification recognizes appliances with extra usage or usage that is increasing over time. This information can be used to identify appliance replacement program candidates as well as to detect appliances that require maintenance.
  • Load Disaggregation provides disaggregation of the whole premise electric load into the individual appliances and loads on the premise, in the form of time-series load profiles for the individual loads. This information can be used for numerous customer education and efficiency programs as well as utility operations applications. According to a Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative (SECC) survey, 69% percent of all consumers are interested in seeing their energy usage by appliance.
  • Activity in the Home identifies the presence of someone in the home through identification of noncyclical load usage. This information can be used to offer programs that allow parents to identify when children are home from school, children to identify that elderly parents are active, and other consumer services.
  • EV Detection detects electric vehicle charging at a premise and calculation of time series usage profile. This can be used for multiple programs aimed at providing the best possible experience for electric vehicle owners as well as for planning and optimization of the distribution grid.
  • Time-of-Use (TOU)/Peak Alerts knows when high-usage appliances are active during peak price periods and the approximate savings that could be achieved if use of the appliances were curtailed during the peak price period. From SECC’s consumer research, we know that consumers are very interested in participating in both TOU rates and peak time rebate programs.

DI applications play an important role in helping utilities improve grid reliability and operational efficiency as well as enhance customer service. For example, AVANGRID will be deploying Itron’s distributed intelligence platform in New York state to improve renewable energy integration and customer service. Leveraging this platform, the energy services and delivery company can take advantage of DI apps to better optimize grid performance, integrate and manage distributed energy resources, and proactively monitor and manage an increasingly dynamic and multi-directional electricity grid. By giving consumers access to new DI-based tools and information, they can be equipped with the insights and means to manage and conserve their own energy consumption, helping companies like AVANGRID realize their energy efficiency goals.

Enabling a New Level of Consumer Engagement

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.

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 (such as Wi-Sun), utilities can catalyze innovation and accelerate their digital transformation, while providing even more benefits to their end consumer.

Tim Driscoll is director of Information Management Outcomes with Itron, and Nathan Shannon is president and CEO of the Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative.

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