WE CAN’T HAVE SMARTEST ENERGY WITHOUT ABUNDANT REAL-TIME DATA

GUEST BLOG BY GAVIN DIETZ, CEO, WATTWATCHERS DIGITAL ENERGY

22 August 2019

Alongside energy efficiency, renewables and decentralisation, real-time data needs to be positioned as a fourth pillar for an orderly but accelerated transition to a clean, reliable and affordable energy future.

The importance of the data itself often gets lost in a welter of ‘smarts’. Smart meters, smart grids, smart energy, smart homes, smart buildings, smart communities, smart cities, smart hubs - the list goes on.

The fact is we’ve overdone the hyperbole about ‘smart’, which is the ultimate goal; and we’ve underdone our focus on the ‘data’, which is the crucial feedstock of intelligent systems, and which drives the process of getting to destination ‘smart’.

Abundant data, and in particular real-time data, is an essential precondition for analytics, machine learning, artificial intelligence, virtual and augmented reality, and the whole Internet of Things era.

Let’s just stop for a moment and think about the state of energy data in Australia. It can be a sobering exercise in industry introspection, but is important to do.

Roughly half of all Australian homes - about 5 million sites - still have old-style electro-magnetic meters. You know, the spinning dials!

Most businesses have little or no sub-metering. It’s been too expensive and too clunky.

Networks and market operators have poor understanding of what is happening across their low voltage networks and grids. This didn’t matter too much when electricity only travelled one-way, down from big centralised power stations; but is increasingly problematical in a new era of distributed energy resources (DERs), with homes and businesses both importing and exporting electricity from the grid via their local network. 

Many consumers still receive quarterly bills in arrears, often estimated, and the antiquated rules governing fair trade in electricity only require a minimum of one meter read a year.

In the age of Facebook and Google, with all of the consumer data rights issues that are now being debated so intensively around the world, there’s still relatively little energy data available on the internet - especially useful, readily-accessible data. 

Some might think this is a good thing, that no data in the cloud is the best protection for consumers. But it also impedes the huge opportunities that the digital revolution offers for a better, faster, more affordable energy future. A future that engages, connects and empowers consumers and breaks the stranglehold on energy data that traditionally has been wielded by utilities.

To unlock the data, there are still many practical issues that need to be addressed by the industry, regulators, policy-makers, and, also, consumer advocates and consumers themselves:

  • Trade skills - with all of the new data capturing and communicating devices in the new energy era - think inverters, fast chargers, IoT sensors and more - the skill requirements for tradespeople need to evolve too. We need electrically-qualified installers who also can handle IT, IoT and a range of wired and wireless communications.
  • Consumer data rights - consumers need to unambiguously own their data, and have the ability to control their energy, to their own advantage, by using their data. They also should be able to decide who their data can be shared with, and get to share in any financial value that is created by using their data.
  • Data marketplace - we need an open marketplace for energy data that operates in parallel with the marketplace for electrons, and we need to avoid proprietary models that lock data up in so-called ‘walled gardens’.
  • Interoperability - the current prevailing situation where hardware integrations are difficult, and mainly required customised solutions for every device type and even model, needs to be solved. Easy compatibility needs to be the norm, not the exception.
  • Outdated regulations - sweeping change is required to bring energy market regulations and industry standards and practices into the contemporary digital age of the 21st century. The same applies to the legislative requirements for trade in electricity. Root-and-branch reform is required, not the grudging incremental change that we currently see.
  • Value creation - there are significant costs in digitising the whole electricity system, both on the grid and behind the meter, but this can more than pay its own way if layers of value are built on top of the data. 

As a simple example of how more data can drive layers of value, cloud-connected real-time monitoring at homes and businesses with rooftop solar PV can help consumers to maximise their generation, optimise their consumption, and trade better with the grid for both the kWh they import and any they export. It also can help solar installers to manage their jobs better, deliver against maintenance and warranty obligations, and potentially upsell to more PV or energy storage; and, additionally, it can help network and market operators to run the system better.

More ambitiously, perhaps, my company Wattwatchers believes that highly granular real-time data can help to elevate energy efficiency further by allowing it to work as a DER in its own right. This can be achieved by measuring it in time series, as happens with solar generation, with ongoing measurement and verification. Effectively, real-time data, and historical data and trends, can make energy efficiency ‘firm’, creating a low-cost DER that can stand alongside solar PV and demand capacity.

In the grid future we need, energy data will be both abundant and available, and it will drive many applications for use cases across the energy sector - utility, commercial and industrial, residential, and crosscutting services and also for clever non-energy solutions. 


Wattwatchers Digital Energy is exhibiting at Energy Efficiency Expo 2019, at Stand F135. CEO Gavin Dietz will be speaking on a panel on the first day of the event (October 23), for a session in the Future Energy and the Grid stream called How do we design a grid with the consumer and prosumer in mind.