Green Button and Tendril – developers as kingmakers in the energy space now as well?

Green button

One of the greatest success stories in the energy sector in the last year is the speed with which America’s Green Button initiative has been adopted.

The project started in September 2011 with a challenge laid down by then US CTO Aneesh Chopra:

today at GridWeek, I challenged the smart grid ecosystem to deliver on the vision of Green Button and provide customers access to their energy usage information electronically. With this information at their fingertips, consumers would be enabled to make more informed decisions about their energy use and, when coupled with opportunities to take action, empowered to actively manage their energy use

His challenge was taken up by the industry with almost unseemly haste.

Green Button data standards were quickly drawn up in conjunction with America’s NIST – this is vital to ensure that Green Button data is cross comparable across utilities – and more importantly, that energy management applications written for Green Button data works across all utilities. This immediately creates a significant userbase for Green Button energy apps.

Then California?s three largest utilities ? Pacific Gas & Electric, San Diego Gas & Electric, and Southern California Edison worked to create a ?Green Button? that allows customers to download their detailed energy usage with one click. Others utilities quickly followed suit and now at time of writing, 25 utility providers are supporting Green Button, including some of the nation’s biggest, like American Electric Power, CentrePoint Energy, and PacifiCorp. This brings the number of households and businesses capable of downloading their energy use information via Green Button in the US to 30 million [PDF] as of May 2012.

Technology companies also joined the efforts, and the list of those involved is long, including most of the usual suspects (Honeywell, Itron, Oracle, Schneider-Electric, Siemens, SilverSpring Networks, and Tendril) with the surprising exceptions of SAP and Logica.

Tendril are a supplier to utilities and they have now made it possible for any of their utility customers to export Green Button formatted files. Nothing too surprising about that, I hear you say. True enough, but where it starts to get really interesting is that Tendril have created GreenButtonConnect.com, a Green Button ecosystem. On this site, consumers can upload their Green Button information to any one of a number of apps hosted there to analyse their energy consumption. Even better though, any developer can use the Tendril Connect platform to develop energy apps, get access to the energy internet and have Tendril help co-market the app!

Tendril have been one of the first to realise that the old RedMonk saw Developers are the new Kingmakers applies just as much to the energy space, as it does to enterprise IT.

To this end, Tendril have also been sponsoring Hackathons themed around energy, like the recent Cleanweb Hackathon in Boulder, Colorado and January’s Cleanweb Hackathon in New York.

In a wide-ranging discussion with Tendril’s VP of Policy, Cameron Brooks, yesterday he opined that while the Green Button files are as yet, not nearly real-time, they will go more and more that direction before long. This will go a long way to facilitating the kinds of value add energy services I posted about recently here.

Photo Credit http://www.samcatchesides.com/

When will we have full Smart Grid deployments?

electric cables

Photo credit mckaysavage

Despite a lot of talk and some high profile trials the day we have ubiquitous full Smart Grids is still a long way off.

I attended the Smart Grids Europe conference in Amsterdam this week.

It was a great conference, I met a ton of interesting people and had some fascinating conversations.

I can’t help feeling a little deflated though.

I’m a huge advocate of Smart Grids. I gave my first international talk about Smart Grids and demand side management (Demand Response) at the Reboot conference in Copenhagen back in early 2007. We are now a full three years later and many utility companies have yet to roll out smart meter pilot programs.

Others are rolling out smart meters more because of pending of legislative requirements than because of any desire help reduce people’s energy footprints.

In fact, after talking to more utility companies, I suspect that smart grids may not proceed beyond smart meter deployments in some regions. The recent Oracle survey of Utility CxO’s confirms this view

utilities executives put improving service reliability (45 percent) and implementing smart metering (41 percent) at the top of the list [of Smart Grid priorities]

So why the apparent passive aggressive response from the utility companies?

Well, they have to keep the lights on. To paraphrase the old saw, they do not want to ‘fix’ their grid, if it ain’t broke! And, let’s be fair, the idea of investing large sums of money to help their customers use less of their product isn’t one which sits comfortably with them. That’s understandable.

And no utility wants to have the kind of customer blowback that PG&E saw with their botched smart meter rollout in Bakersfield.

But there is a huge global imperative for Smart Grids – the Smart 2020 report said:

Smart grid technologies were the largest opportunity found in the study and could globally reduce 2.03 GtCO2e , worth ?79 billion ($124.6 billion).

How then do we square that circle?

We could legislate for them but a better approach would be to change the landscape in which the utility companies operate such that there is a business case for full smart grid deployments.

I suspect the best approach would be the introduction of a carbon tax. This is something we need to do anyway (and the mechanisms for doing so are a topic for a separate post) but if there were a tax on CO2 production, it would be in utility companies (and their customers) interests to cut back on energy consumption.

Even if there were a strong business case for smart grids, given the glacial speeds at which utility companies move, I suspect it is going to be many years before we see full smart grid implementations.

Smart Grid Heavy Hitter series – Oracle’s Guerry Waters



I decided to run a series of interviews with people deeply involved in the Smart Grid space. I’m calling it the Smart Grid Heavy Hitters series. I will publish a new interview every Thursday until I run out of interviewees (or out of energy – poor pun intended, sorry!).

In this, the first of my Smart Grid Heavy Hitters’ interviews, I talk to Oracle’s VP of Industry Strategy, Guerry Waters.

It was a great interview – in it we talked about:

  • Oracle’s vision of a successful Smart Grid
  • The benefits of Smart Grids
  • The requirements for a successful Smart Grid rollout
  • The impacts of regulations on Smart Grid rollouts
  • Examples of Smart Grids and
  • Oracle’s place in the Smart Grid ecosystem

I’d like to thanks Guerry and Oracle for being such willing participants in this project and Ludovic Leforestier for helping make this interview happen!.

The day that we see all devices which consume water having networked flow meters is still a ways off

atr

Photo credit Hypergurl – Tanya Ann

I wrote a post a couple of days ago asking the question How long until all devices which consume water have networked flow meters? after talking to Oracle VP Industry Strategy, Guerry Waters about Oracle’s recently released “Testing the Water: Smart Metering for Water Utilities” study.

Having put the question out there, I’m now going to discuss some of the factors which will influence the answer!

The first thing to realise from the Oracle data is that 76% of homeowners in the US are concerned with the need to conserve water in their community and 71% believe that having access to detailed consumption data would encourage them to take steps to lower their water use. So barring and big PR disasters like the PG&E Smart electricity Meter fiasco in Bakersfield, it would seem that the vast majority of consumers are bought into the idea of having smart meters to help lower water consumption.

How about the utilities? It looks like if they do decide to rollout smart water meters, they’ll very much be pushing an open door.

Funnily enough this is where it starts to get a bit nuanced!

First off, 83% of utilities who have conducted a cost-benefit analysis (n=86) support the adoption of smart meter technology, so that’s a good start, right?

Well, yes, but what are the motivations of the utilities?

It turns out that they are far more interested in using smart meters to enable early leak detection than in supplying customers with tools to monitor/reduce their consumption!

Right away this is problematic, if the aims of the utilities and their customers are not aligned, then this will greatly complicate any rollouts. Also, if the utilities are not strongly focussed on providing consumers with tools to reduce their consumption, any such tools which are provided to homeowners would most likely be sub-optimal (an after-thought).

Then, when asked what they perceived as roadblocks, the water utilities cited the lack of cost recovery or measurable ROI as well as the up-front utility expenses required – in fact, 64% of utilities are not even currently considering a smart meter program!

So, until the water utilities are as enthusiastic to roll out smart meters as their counterparts in the electrical utilities are, then the day that we see all devices which consume water having networked flow meters is still a ways off.

Of course, in the case of the electric utilities, their enthusiasm is certainly not hurt by the amount of recovery act monies being pored into smart grids!

How long until all devices which consume water have networked flow meters?

atr

Photo credit bmitchellw

Oracle published the results of a very interesting study recently called Testing the Water: Smart Metering for Water Utilities.

Now, we have all heard about the compelling case for Smart Meters for electrical consumption (I have written and spoken about it extensively) but in this study Oracle asked utilities and their customers about the benefits of rolling out Smart Meters for managing water consumption.

Part of the reason for undertaking this study was that water shortages are already being seen in the South East United States, Western Canada, and Southern California.

In fact, according to the EPA’s WaterSense site:

  • At least 36 states are projecting water shortages between now and 2013.
  • Each American uses an average of 100 gallons of water a day at home.
  • Approximately 5 to 10 percent of American homes have water leaks that drip away 90 gallons a day or more! Many of these leaks reside in old fixtures such as leaky toilets and faucets. If the 5 percent of American homes that leak the most corrected those leaks?it could save more than 177 billion gallons of water annually!
  • The average [US] household spends as much as $500 per year on their water and sewer bill and can save about $170 per year by installing water-efficient fixtures and appliances.

Some of the results of the Oracle water study show that:

  • 68% of water utility managers believe it is critical that water utilities adopt smart meter technologies
  • 76% of consumers are concerned about the need to conserve water in their community
  • 69% of consumers believe they could reduce their personal water use
  • 71% of consumers believe receiving more detailed information on their water consumption would encourage them to take steps to lower their water use
  • 83% of water utilities who have completed a cost- benefit analysis support the adoption of smart meter technology

So, the public is concerned about water conservation and believes that more information would help them reduce their consumption of water. The majority of utility managers also believe smart meter technologies are critical, so things are looking rosy so far.

The data output from smart electricity meters is extremely granular and yields very specific energy footprints. With this data it is trivial to identify the devices using the energy down to make and model of the machine. However, this is not the case for smart water meters. Their output is far less granular – it will be quite difficult to map water consumption data from smart meters to individual devices within the house (unless there are flow meters attached to all the devices using water, for example).

What if though, you could tie-in the output of your electrical smart meter and your water smart meters? Analysing the data from the two meters it should be possible to identify at least some of the devices using water (fridge, dish washer, electric shower, etc.). Having this information tied-in to make and model of device would be extremely useful to help identify more water efficient appliances.

Because, for the most part, your water and electricity utilities are separate companies (or different business units within a utility), this is not a solution they are likely to pursue. However, there has been a surge in the number of 3rd party companies working on Home Management Software applications/devices.

Most recently we’ve seen that Apple are looking into the home energy management space, but others big names already involved include Google, Microsoft, Intel and Panasonic to name but a few.

With consumer’s actively interested in receiving more information about their energy and water usage and with the value that this data has, it is a no-brainer that Home Management Software will manage water consumption as well as energy in time.

How long before it is mandatory that all devices which consume water have networked flow meters and all homes have smart water meters?

Oracle’s Turning Information into Power report

Oracle Turning information into power report

Oracle released the results of a research report last week called “Turning Information into Power“.

The report had some interesting findings – from the press release:

Americans are concerned about energy costs and show interest in new energy options.

  1. 94% are concerned with the energy costs of their primary residence.
  2. 95% are interested in receiving detailed information on their energy use.
  3. 76% are interested in renewable energy technologies for their home – and 72% of those respondents state that “reducing personal energy costs” is the most important benefit of renewable energy.

Other interesting findings include:

  1. When asked to give their utility suppliers a grade on their “current ability to provide detailed, useful information on energy consumption,” only 14% of Americans gave their utility an “A.” When grading themselves on the same question, only 16% of utility managers gave their organizations an “A.”
  2. While more than half (58%) of electricity and multi-service utilities surveyed currently offer net metering programs – which allow homeowners to generate their own renewable energy or sell it back to their utilities – just 11% of these utilities say their customers are actively pursuing the programs.

This clearly demonstrates a communications issue between the utilities and their customer base.

While on Smart Grids –

  1. 91% of utility managers believe it is critical that the U.S. adopts smart grid technologies.
  2. 41% of utilities have assessed the opportunity for smart grid technologies and
  3. Utility managers believe “upfront consumer expenses” (42%) and a “lack of consistent industry technology standards” (30%) will be the biggest roadblocks to maximizing benefits of the smart grid

There is a lot of interesting information to digest in this report – mainly though it is good news. The American people want more information on their energy use, they are interested in renewables and microgeneration. The renewables, for their part, believe that rolling out smart grids is critical, provide net-metering programs but don’t, as yet, provide detailed useful information on energy consumption in their bills.

Both sides perceive the biggest obstacle to the rollout of smart grids is financial.

Let’s hope that the $11bn pledged to the implementation of smart grids by the Obama stimulus plan will break down some of these barriers.

I hope to be interviewing Guerry Waters, vice president, industry strategy, Oracle Utilities about this report in the coming weeks, if you have any questions you’d like me to put to Guerry, please feel free to leave them in the comments.

SAP’s Peter Graf discusses his role – Chief Sustainability Officer

ERP software maker SAP is, according to Wikipedia, the world’s 4th largest software co. in the world (presumably after Google, Microsoft and Oracle).

It is a big deal then when a company of SAP’s size announces the creation of the position of Chief Sustainability Officer, as SAP did earlier this month.

In the same announcement SAP also announced targets to reduce carbon emissions by 51% and to help their customers reduce their emissions.

Having talked to SAP previously, I know this is not a sudden conversion on their part but I was interested to talk to their new Sustainability chief, Peter Graf to ask him about the announcements.

We recorded three videos on the three parts of the announcement – this is the first one where Peter discusses the new role.

IBM hits the Green ball out of the park!

Al Zollar on Smart Grids

I attended Pulse 2009, the IBM service management conference, in Las Vegas during the week. To be perfectly frank, I didn’t know much about service management software before going to the event so my expectations of what to expect from the conference were low! However, IBM hit the Green ball out of the park at this conference. Almost every speaker who stood up to speak mentioned smart grids, energy or efficiency and Al Zollar, GM of Tivoli Software above, even had a slide on demand response!

The turnout for the event was around 5-6000 I’m told and I have no reason to doubt it as the general sessions were thronged.

It really is tremendous to see Oracle, SAP and IBM all heavily touting their Smart Grid software solutions – it looks like the dream of the intelligent energy network and the massive efficiencies which will accrue, is not far off.

I met a ton of interesting people there and video’d a couple of them so I’ll be posting more in upcoming posts.

[Disclosure: IBM paid my travel and expenses for this trip]

Oracle’s Utilities Meter Data Management taking off

Oracle

Photo credit Not Quite a Photographr

Interesting bits of news from Oracle on the Smart Grid front in the last couple of days:

  1. Oracle recently released Oracle Utilities Meter Data Management 1.5, which includes enhancements to help accelerate advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) integrations, to ultimately lower implementation costs for utilities that are implementing smart metering programs, to detect outages more quickly, drive energy efficiency initiatives and provide more accurate billing information to customers.
  2. UtiliPoint reported that Oracle won seven out of 14 major meter data management customers in 2008 (no link, sorry as UtilitiPoint charge around $3,000 for their reports!)
  3. Modesto Irrigation District is rolling out a Smart Meter project to more than 91,270 residential and about 12,700 commercial and industrial customers using Oracle’s Meter Data Management. Tom Kimball, MID’s Assistant General Manager for Transmission and Distribution, said

    Smart meters make good economic sense for consumers and utilities alike in this time of rising electric rates. Moreover, the California Energy Commission may soon require this type of electric meter, and the Legislature is moving in the same direction

  4. And news just in today that Italy’s Acea Distribuzione selected Oracle Utilities Meter Data Management to support its Automatic Meter Management (AMM) project, covering approximately 1.6 million meters – making it one of the largest AMM deployments in Europe to date.

    The Oracle solution will help us to provide our customers with advanced options including consumption profiles as well as consumption information online – ultimately allowing the consumer to make more informed decisions about their energy use

    said Delio Svaluto Moreolo, Metering Department, Acea Distribuzione S.p.A.

We have been writing a lot on this blog about the advantages of Smart Grids, and president Obama has recently called for the rollout of 40m smart meters in the US so it is great to see the big software vendors pushing out the necessary apps to help utilities make smart grids a reality.

Corporate Social Responsibility – tech companies reviewed!

Corporate Social Responsibility

According to its Wikipedia definition, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)

is a concept whereby organizations consider the interests of society by taking responsibility for the impact of their activities on customers, suppliers, employees, shareholders, communities and other stakeholders, as well as the environment. This obligation is seen to extend beyond the statutory obligation to comply with legislation and sees organizations voluntarily taking further steps to improve the quality of life for employees and their families as well as for the local community and society at large.

Companies are now starting to report on their Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives in greater numbers. Drivers for this include the rise in ethical consumerism, socially responsible investing, employee recruitment and loyalty, changing laws and regulations, increased scrutiny and transparency and risk mitigation.

According to the Sustainable Investment Research Analyst’s (SIRAN) 2008 report (pdf warning):

  • 86 of the S&P 100 companies now have corporate sustainability websites, compared to 58 in mid-2005, an increase of 48 percent;
  • 49 of the leading U.S. companies produced a sustainability report in 2007, an increase of 26 percent from 39 in 2005

In an attempt to define standards and make these reports cross-comparable, the Global Reporting Initiative has come up with a sustainability reporting framework. According to Wikipedia:

The GRI Guidelines are the most common framework used in the world for reporting. More than 1000 organizations from 60 countries use the Guidelines to produce their sustainability reports.

A quick search of tech sites reveals:
IBM’s stellar Corporate Responsibility site – IBM’s site has a ton of good information and a downloadable CSR report (pdf) and includes the Global Reporting initiative (GRI) index. If there is a tech company with a better CSR site than this, please tell me, I haven’t found it yet!

From the Dell site you can see dell has been producing Sustainability reports back to 1998 (called Environment reports back then). The 2008 CSR report (pdf) is linked to from the company Values page and is a really good example of how to do these reports well.

SAP’s Sustainability site is pretty bare bones (and though found by Google, I couldn’t find a link to it on the corporate website! Having said that, their Sustainability report (pdf), linked to from their Sustainability site, is very good for a first effort. It includes a GRI index and while SAP admit that the report is prepared to GRI Application Level C, they give a commitment to producing a “report to GRI B+ standard externally assured and audited in second quarter 2009″.

Cisco’s CSR site includes a great 5 minute video on CSR from Cisco CEO John Chambers and some of his CSR related staff. Unfortunately the video is not embeddable and is all rights reserved or I would embed it here :-( Cisco’s CSR 2008 report is available in a Flash interactive version or the more traditional (and easier to consume) pdf version! Again this report has a GRI index included.

Sun’s excellent CSR site includes a podcast, lots of great links to relevant information and its superb 2008 CSR report (pdf) – again with the GRI index data.

Oracle also has a good CSR site. Oracle’s site links to its 2008 Corporate Citizenship report (pdf) but it doesn’t include a GRI index link.

HP’s Global Citizenship site looks good until you check out their CSR report – it dates to financial year 2007 (which ended October 31, 2007). In its defense, it does include a GRI index but guys, come on, 2007?

Neither Intel nor AMD have reports for 2008. But while Intel have a very comprehensive downloadable pdf report on their CSR initiatives for 2007, the AMD offering consists of a disappointing four tables of performance indicators across the last few years.

If you are looking for Microsoft’s CSR report, you will find it buried under Resource Center -> Awards and Reports -> now click on the Reports tab on their Corporate Citizenship site. The most recent report is dated 2007-08. It is a 5 page document of mostly images, there is no mention whatsoever of GRI, there is no executive involvement, and in comparison to previous years reports, it looks like Microsoft’s limited focus on CSR has waned completely.

Having said that, at least Microsoft has produced a report! Apple didn’t even do that. When As You Sow, recently tabled a shareholder resolution that would require Apple to publish a corporate social responsibility (CSR) report, The company issued a proxy filing asking shareholders to vote against this resolution, saying that the publication would be an unnecessary expense that would “produce little added value.”

Having said that, at least Apple have a section on their site dedicated to their environmental efforts, Amazon don’t even appear to do that. Their filed reports page makes no effort to include any reports about environmental stewardship or corporate citizenship although given the story which came out before Christmas about Amazon’s shocking employment practices, that can hardly be any surprise.

Ironically Google’s CSR efforts are supremely difficult to find! They do have a corporate website dedicated to their Green Initiatives but like Apple, they too don’t have any CSR report (that I could find!).

Who’d I miss? Who is better? Who is worse?

Original photo by ATIS547