Smart Grid Heavy Hitters series – Landis+Gyr President and COO Andreas Umbach

This is the fourth of my Smart Grid Heavy Hitters’ interviews, and in it I talked to the President and COO of Landis+Gyr, Andreas Umbach. Landis+Gyr have been in the meter business for decades now so I was very interested to hear what Andreas had to say.

It was a great chat, we talked about:

  • Andreas’ and Landis+Gyr’s definition and the benefits of a Smart Grid
  • The differences in smart grid rollouts around the world and
  • Demand response programs which are consumer friendly

Smart Grid Heavy Hitter series – Silver Springs Networks’ Raj Vaswani

This is the third of my Smart Grid Heavy Hitters’ interviews, and in it I talked to the CTO of Silver Springs Networks, Raj Vaswani.

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

  • Raj’s definition and the benefits of a Smart Grid
  • The fact that, to-date Smart Grids are quite notional
  • How long it will be before home energy portals, vehicle to grid, and similar technologies will emerge and
  • The differences between Europe and the US in terms of Smart Grid rollouts

I wanted to go on for longer but unfortunately we ran out of time!


GreenMonk Energy and Sustainability post for 22nd Feb

greenmonktv on Broadcast Live Free

We had a great Energy and Sustainability show today – in case you were unable to make it, I recorded the video (above) and the chatstream (below):

Tom Raftery :
Kicking off the show in a sec

cgarvey :

Cheers Tom .. I’m still stuck back at the smart meters link .. loads of links to digest. Ta!

raphael :

thanks tom

Tom Raftery :

Thanks everyone, as always, Tom


Smart Grid Heavy Hitter series – SAP’s Stefan Engelhardt

In this, the second of my Smart Grid Heavy Hitters’ interviews, I talk to SAP’s Head of Industry Business Unit for Utilities, Stefan Engelhardt.

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

  • Stefan’s definition of a Smart Grid
  • The benefits of Smart Grids to both the utilities and the customers of the utilities
  • The state of Smart Grid rollouts to-date
  • What an ideal Smart Grid would look like
  • What barriers are holding up Smart Grid rollouts
  • Which regions are further along in Smart Grid rollouts and which are lagging behind

PG&E smart meter communication failure – lessons for the rest of us

See no evil, hear no evil

What we have got here is a failure to communicate

The famous line from legendary movie Cool Hand Luke is the first thing that comes to mind when one hears about the fiasco which PG&E’s smart meter rollout in Bakersfield Ca. has become.

From the report on the site:

a class-action lawsuit has been filed representing thousands that will demand damages from the utility and third-parties also involved in the $2.2 billion project.

Bakersfield residents believe their new smart meters are malfunctioning because their bills are much higher than before. PG&E claims higher bills are due to rate hikes, an unusually warm summer, and customers not shifting demand to off-peak times when rates are lower.

This has to be a huge embarrassment for PG&E and their partners who are spending $2.2 billion on this project.

So what has gone wrong?

A recent report in the New York Times raises speculation that the meters themselves are to blame:

Elizabeth Keogh, a retired social worker in Bakersfield, Calif., who describes herself as “a bit chintzy,” has created a spreadsheet with 26 years of electric bills for her modest house. She decided that her new meter was running too fast.

Ms. Keogh reported to the utility that the meter recorded 646 kilowatt-hours in July, for which she paid $66.50; last year it was 474 kilowatt-hours, or $43.37.

At a hearing in October organized by her state senator, Ms. Keogh took out two rolls of toilet paper — one new, one half used up — and rolled them down the aisle, showing how one turned faster than the other. “Something is wrong here,” she said.

Scores of electric customers with similar complaints have turned out at similar hearings. At one in Fresno, Calif., Leo Margosian, a retired investigator, testified that the new meter logged the consumption of his two-bedroom townhouse at 791 kilowatt-hours in July, up from 236 a year earlier. And he had recently insulated his attic and installed new windows, Mr. Margosian said.

I spoke to good friend and fellow Enterprise Irregular Jeff Nolan earlier today after I saw him Tweet:

yeah I’m actually pretty pissed, PG&E installed a so called “smart meter” and my utility bill increased $300.

It seems Jeff was having the same problem and his bill was also up significantly over the same month last year.

There are a number of problems here – all to do with transparency and communication.

If, as PG&E say, this is because of “customers not shifting demand to off-peak times when rates are lower”, then it follows that PG&E have either failed to communicate the value of shifting demand or the time when rates are lower.

One of the advantages of a smart grid is that the two way flow of information will allow utilities to alert customers to real-time electricity pricing via an in-home display. PG&E have not rolled out in-home displays with their smart meters, presumably for cost reasons. If they lose the class-action law suit, that may turn out to have been an unwise decision.

Even worse though, in a further post on Twitter, Jeff said:

I’m waited for PG&E to put up the daily usage numbers, I won’t get those until next month for some unexplained reason

This defies belief, frankly.

It seems that PG&E’s smart grid rollout is woefully under-resourced at the back-end. What PG&E should have is a system where customers can see their electrical consumption in real-time (on their phone, on their computer, on their in-home display, etc.) but also, in the same way that credit card companies contact me if purchasing goes out of my normal pattern, PG&E should have a system in place to contact customers whose bills are going seriously out of kilter. Preferably a system which alerts people in realtime if they are consuming too much electricity when the price is high, through their in-home display, via sms,Twitter DM, whatever.

Jeff himself likened this situation to the e-voting debacle where the lack of transparency around the e-voting machines meant the whole process collapsed. In the same way, a lack of open standards around smart meters means we can only trust the smart meter manufacturers and utilities when they tell us that they are operating honestly. That is unlikely to fly.

This debacle has massive implications, not just for PG&E’s $2.2 billion smart meter rollout, but for smart meter projects the world over.

Transparency and communications failures can lead to utilities being sued by their customers, as we have seen with the PG&E example. Not a desirable situation for any company. The PR fallout from the Bakersfield rollout means PG&E will have a much harder time convincing other customers to sign up for smart meters and may potentially set back smart grid projects in California for years.

You should follow me on twitter here.

Photo credit svale


There’s gold in them thar bills!

Graph of power consumption

Photo credit Urban Jacksonville

The output from smart meters is incredibly granular. Far more so than is obvious from the smart meter output graph above.

In conversations with Dr Monica Sturm (Director of Siemen’s Center of Competence, Metering Services) last November (2008) she confirmed to me that it is possible to identify individual devices in someone’s home down to make, model and year of manufacture by looking at their energy profile – the output of their smart meter.

This kind of information is absolute gold and don’t think the utility companies aren’t starting to wake up to the fact. They are, and they are not alone. Why else do you think Google have jumped into this space with their PowerMeter offering. Not to be outdone, Microsoft have also stepped in with their Hohm product.

It won’t be long before Apple joins the fray with a sleekier, sexier iHome application!

For the utilities themselves, there are data protection issues to be worked through but once they are (and they will be), the utilities will use this data to help make up for the earnings lost as customers become more energy efficient (consuming less expensive energy).

One revenue model you will start to see emerge is utility companies selling appliances (and possibly even cars!). How will it work?

Because the utility company will have full visibility of our energy consumption, they will see when your devices are inefficient/faulty. I can very easily envisage receiving a communication from my utility company in the not-too-distant future along the lines of:

Dear Mr Raftery (actually, as I am based in Spain it would be more likely to be Estimado Sr. Raftery but let’s stick with the English version),

We notice from your energy profile that you own a 2004 Indesit BAN12NFS fridge freezer. Our records show that in the last 3 months the compressor in that freezer has become much less efficient and it is now costing you €25 a month just to run that one appliance.

We have partnerships with service companies who could try to repair the compressor in that fridge freezer for you, or alternatively, we have a special offer this month on new energy efficient fridge freezers.

We can have a brand new fridge freezer installed in your home before the end of the week. We can take away your old one for responsible disposition. And all this will won’t cost you a penny, in fact it will save you €10* per month off your current bill!

So, to summerize, if you call our hotline now on 555-123 4567 you can save €10 off your monthly bill, have a brand new fridge-freezer installed free and reduce your CO2 emissions by 12kg a year.

What are you waiting for?

*We charge you €15 per month for the new fridge thus saving you €10 per month off your current bill. Terms and conditions apply.

That’s just one possible scenario of how the utility companies will make use of smart meter data to generate alternative revenue streams for themselves – can you think of others?


July 6th Energy and Sustainability show

Yesterday’s GreenMonk Energy and Sustainability show went off without the technical hitches which plagued the previous week’s show. I fixed the chat app and the Google Calendar button so you can now add the show to your calendar (and be notified of any changes to the schedule).

Consequently with the chat app now working in Firefox, there was far greater audience participation in the show – something which was sorely missing from the previous week’s show!

Here is this week’s chatstream:

03:31 Tom Raftery: Hows is the audio, video & chat?
03:31 MikeTheBee: stopped
03:31 MikeTheBee: no audio or vid 4 me
03:32 MikeTheBee: back now
03:32 MikeTheBee: did a refresh
03:33 liveireland: all you need now is greenscreen
03:33 MikeTheBee: lol
03:33 MikeTheBee: oooh
03:34 Tom Raftery:
03:35 Tom Raftery:
03:36 MikeTheBee: google calendar link is now working for me.
03:36 PaulMWatson: I hope that water is sustainable…
03:36 MikeTheBee: that is why they are not really rebuilding then
03:37 monkchips: canada??? whats up with that?
03:37 monkchips: tom – the new setup is awesome! you look so much better
03:37 Tom Raftery:
03:37 monkchips: no need for american panstick makeup
03:38 monkchips: hello mikethebee
03:38 Roland: Calendar link works fine for me too!
03:38 MikeTheBee: hi mc
03:40 Tom Raftery:
03:40 cgarvey: Re: Canada; Read up on Steve Harper and you’ll see he’s not to far removed from George Bush at all at all.
03:41 monkchips: as i understand it
03:41 MikeTheBee: And we were going to harvest that sea grass for fuel.
03:41 monkchips: coastal syndrome is often reversible
03:41 monkchips: *if* we get well off it.
03:42 Tom Raftery:
03:44 Tom Raftery:
03:44 Tom Raftery:
03:45 MikeTheBee: sarcasm does not become you 🙂
03:46 Tom Raftery:
03:47 Tom Raftery:
03:47 MikeTheBee: You must need it for all your flights
03:48 monkchips: you love it you dirty carbon *****
03:50 Tom Raftery:
03:51 liveireland: me too.. i work in electrical engineering
03:51 MikeTheBee: Can we enhance the smart meter using CurrentCost type controllers
03:51 Tom Raftery:
03:53 Tom Raftery:
03:53 monkchips: i would happily pay directly for that
03:55 monkchips: holy ****
03:55 monkchips: we have to write that up
03:55 Tom Raftery:
03:56 cgarvey: “The WaterBoxx gives them a head start, Hoff explains” .. g’wan The Hoff! Omni-present!
03:57 Tom Raftery:
03:58 PaulMWatson: Good for water treatment and run-off problems too
03:58 Tom Raftery:
03:59 Tom Raftery:
03:59 PaulMWatson: Water usage of vegitecture? Maybe use WaterBox condensation techniques
04:01 SukiFuller: Better late than never – howdy folks!
04:01 PaulMWatson: Could filter greywater through the walls? Like some green-homes
04:02 monkchips: they always overwhelm the sewers too
04:02 monkchips: so you get a LOT of pollution hits
04:02 PaulMWatson: Good point about storm drain problems. e.g. Dublin.
04:02 monkchips: the water supply
04:02 monkchips: thus for example the awesoem progress we made in thames
04:02 monkchips: really threw us back
04:02 Tom Raftery:
04:03 Tom Raftery:
04:05 Tom Raftery:
04:05 MikeTheBee: I’m still seeing people hard cover their gardens when they have the money, rather than using ‘old hat’ lime chippings
04:05 monkchips: where does that monkchips find the time?
04:06 SukiFuller: Who is that monkchips dude?
04:06 MikeTheBee: one cool dude, that guy
04:07 PaulMWatson: @MikeTheBee I’ll bet the builders-rubbish 1 foot down in most Irish gardens doesn’t help either.
04:07 MikeTheBee: Dublin is built on marsh like London is it not?
04:07 SukiFuller: Oh @mikethebee you are such a sucker – he’s a ponce!
04:08 MikeTheBee: <8 04:08 MikeTheBee: good news 04:08 liveireland: great show thanks 04:08 cgarvey: Cheers for the show again Tom 04:08 SukiFuller: BTW - I am going to China next month for 1 year 04:08 monkchips: well done tom 04:08 monkchips: loving the show 04:08 monkchips: and the new room is so much better 04:09 monkchips: 😉 04:09 MikeTheBee: good show, good luck suki, report back via greemonk 04:09 MikeTheBee: cherrs TOm 04:09 SukiFuller: Cheers Tom 04:09 PaulMWatson: Cheers Tom 04:09 SukiFuller: Mike I shall - that monkchips gets all my news first 04:10 Tom Raftery: Thanks everyone for your contributions - made all the difference to the show


Oracle’s Utilities Meter Data Management taking off


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.


Britain readies for nation-wide Smart Meter rollout

Smart Meter

An article in the UK’s Sunday Times recently talked about the plans for a nationwide rollout of Smart Meters in Britain.

From the article:

Telecoms giants Vodafone, O2 and BT and system integrators Logica, Accenture, IBM and Capgemini are understood to have started talks to form bidding consortiums…

The government has put smart meters at the heart of its energy policy but progress on its implemen-tation has been slow. A consensus has emerged recently between the Department for Energy and Climate Change, Ofgem, the regulator, and the big six utility companies over how it will be done.

Each utility will be responsible for fitting new meters for its customers, starting a roll-out from 2010…

To ensure transparency, a “central communications” group would be set up to electronically collect, process and distribute data and serve as the go-between for energy companies and the meters in their customers’ homes…

Ofgem is expected to run the tender for the contract, which would operate from 2010 to 2020. The winning group would likely consist of a telecoms provider and a systems integrator. There is an outside chance that the contract could be broken down regionally.

This is great news for Britain as it will allow for demand response projects to be rolled out with the consequent nationwide energy savings and the possibilities to increase the penetration of renewables on the grid. Ireland continues to drag its feet in this area with a limited pilot to begin next year. With the irish government hoping to reach 40% penetration of renewables by 2020, they really need to pick up the pace if they want to come anywhere near achieving that target.


REALLY Smart Meters!

Smart meter

Photo Credit yewenyi

Smart electricity meter projects are being rolled out all over the globe at this stage (here’s a map of the Smart Meter projects in the US), and with the Smart Meters, come Smart Grids and Demand Response programs whereby the utilities implement peak shaving programs (and in certain cases demand stimulation) to match demand and supply curves. This will lead to a more stable grid and therefore increase the amount of variable generators (i.e. weather based renewables) it is possible to add to the grid. Great.

However, this is not nearly ambitious enough as far as I am concerned. First off, as I have said previously, cheaper electricity typically has a higher % of renewables in the generation mix. Therefore, if I am getting a smart meter, I want it to be a very smart meter. I want my meter to be going out across the grid, checking the realtime price from all utilities and dynamically sourcing the energy from the cheapest supplier at any given time. Nothing too new there, I have written about that concept previously.

Taking that idea to the next level. Imagine if utilities were mandated to publish, not only the price of electricity in realtime, but also the generation mix. I could then have a Smart Meter which would actively chose the greenest electricity for me at any time. Or the one with the best price/renewables mix.

And if we had a SuperGrid in place, then that Green electricity might be coming from Danish windfarms, Icelandic geothermal generation or North African solar farms.

Now that would be a Really Smart Meter!

UPDATE – I have been asked the relevance of the photo above – it is subtle, anyone care to guess?