Logica’s Global Utilities Director, Nigel Spooner talks Smart Meters, Smart Grids and the DCC

At the recent Logica Utility Analyst day, I talked to Logica’s Global Utilities Director, Nigel Spooner about Smart Meters, Smart Grids and the DCC – here’s a transcription of our conversation:

Tom Raftery: Hi everyone, welcome to GreenMonk TV, I’m in the Logica building in London with Nigel Spooner. Nigel is Global Utility Director for Logica. Nigel we’ve had a bit of a discussion here during the analyst event that I have just been attending, around smart meters and smart grids. Now we’re in the middle of one of the world’s worst economic crises in a long time, why would utilities want to be spending money on rolling out smart meters?

Nigel Spooner: Yeah it’s a good question isn’t it, it is difficult when money is tight, but there are benefits to smart metering, both in terms of the consumer being able to manage their energy consumption more closely, and also in terms of the distribution companies being able to run their networks more efficiently, but also and importantly being been able to cater for consumers doing their own generation for instance with photovoltaics and also for things like incorporating electric vehicles into the network.

Tom Raftery: So this is kind of life smart grid stuff and can you give us a quick idea, I mean you talked just a little bit about it sidewise, give me kind of an overall picture of what a smart grid is?

Nigel Spooner: A smart grid is difficult to define very succinctly, but it is a distribution grid where there is much more control over the way that power flows both on to and off the grid. At the moment grids are very much one way. The power goes in from the power station, it goes through the network and into the consumer.

Increasingly we’re having to cope for the fact that the consumers themselves are generating power, they are also using things like electric vehicles which have to be charged up at particular times, they need to be controlled if the networks are not to be overloaded, and therefore the distribution grids have to be much more responsive to those loads and those demands going on them. Smart metering gives the distribution companies the opportunity to know what’s going on on that grid to a much closer degree, and in real time than they having been doing so far.

Tom Raftery: And advantages to consumers…

Nigel Spooner: To consumers the advantage is that they can get first of all more flexible tariffs, so we may be able to get tariffs that are much more aligned with the way in which we actually consume energy, rather than being just a blanket tariff that’s the same for everyone. There will be much more information on the energy that one is using, so that for instance one can see when one is going for a rather large load and to turn things off if you need to, but also there is the ability increasingly to respond to variable pricing, so that if we know for instance electricity is going to be expensive in three days time because of demands on the system, then we can react to that and make sure that our large items like air-conditioning units that’s on, do not get turned on when the price is very high. So we should be able to save both energy and money through the information that smart metering gives.

Tom Raftery: And, I’ve heard a bit about this DCC thing that’s been rolled out here in the UK, can you tell me a little bit about that?

Nigel Spooner: Well DCC is simply the organization that is going to be setup or is been setup by the British government to basically take charge of all the data that is coming off smart meters as we roll them out. This will be collected centrally and then distributed to the market participants and the view is that, that will be the most efficient way to manage this huge increase in information that smart meters are providing. By doing that it should make it easier for participants to come into the market and it should make it easier for consumers to get the best deal on their energy.

Tom Raftery: Where is Logica in all this?

Nigel Spooner: Well I’m delighted to say that all the things we’ve been talking about require relatively sophisticated information technology services to enable them to happen. Logica has for many years been in the business of providing the systems and the services that are required to make those infrastructures operate effectively and we will of course continue to do so.

Tom Raftery: Okay, great. Nigel that’s been fantastic, thanks for talking to us today.

Nigel Spooner: Thank You Tom.

Full disclosure – Logica paid my travel and accommodation to attend this event.


Logica and EdP’s smart grid trial in Évora

Energy management devices

Logica brought me to the pretty Portuguese town of Évora recently to check out the InovGrid project which they have been participating in, along with EdP and other partner companies.

InovGrid is an ambitious project to roll out smart grid technologies to six million customers across Portugal. Évora’s InovCity is the first stage of the project. There are 35,000 people living in Évora, almost all of whom have been issued with smart meters by now.

The smart meters are connected in realtime to in-home displays (like the one pictured above) which takes energy consumption readings every two seconds and plots it on the screen. It can display the usage data as kWh, CO2 or more tangibly, the € cost. If the home or business has an internet connection, this information can be viewed remotely on a computer or mobile device (as seen on the laptop on the right in the image above). Interestingly, there is two-way communication going on here, so if smart plugs are installed in the house, they can be controlled (on/off) from the in-home display, or remotely.

The information displayed on the in-home displays, and remotely, is not the same information which is sent to the utility for billing purposes. This may lead to some discrepancies in the € amount on the displays versus the amount on the bill at the end of the month. The smart meters send billing information to the utilities over Power Line Communications (with a GPRS backup). Even with the PLC connection, there is far too much data in 2 second reads, so a lower rate of reads is sent to the utility for billing purposes.

Interestingly, the in-home device shown above was installed in a coffee shop in Évora and it was possible to watch the fluctuations in the consumption graph in realtime as coffee was being made for customers. Also, the coffee shop realised €500 savings per annum in their energy bill when they examined the information from the device and realised they were not on the optimal tariff. It also demonstrated to them the savings to be had from turning off the coffee machine overnight, so the extra information from the device helped influence their behaviour.

EV Parking spot

EV Parking spot

Other than the smart meters, we were shown the information display in the town hall, which shows the realtime energy consumption of the building. This information is also supposed to be available on the town hall’s website for citizens to see remotely, though I failed to find it there (doubtless due to my lack of Portuguese!).

Other nice features on display were dedicated parking places for electric vehicles (EV’s), complete with charging stations as well as LED streetlights with motion sensors which dim the lights in the absence of people on the streets. The EV parking place was predictably empty due more to the general unavailability of EV’s than anything else. The LED streetlights though was interesting. Very few towns or cities have, as yet, embraced LED streetlights and yet 50% of a town’s energy spend can be on streetlights. LED lights can save 80-90% of the energy cost over traditional streetlights, they can report back their status (obviating the need to have staff checking for lighting failures) and they have a much longer lifetime, so they save on maintenance costs as well as energy.

It would be interesting to hear back from the InovCity people how much Évora is saving on lighting costs from the move to LED (even if only the energy savings) but even more interesting would be to try to see if the rollout of the smart meters and in-home displays has led to any sustained, per home, energy consumption reduction.

One last comment on this project – I can’t help but feel that the provision of in-home displays is an idea whose time has past. These days most people have access to a tablet, a smartphone or a computer where they can access this information. I suspect as the InovGrid project rolls out beyond the 35,000 inhabitants of Évora to rest of Portugal, the IHD’s will become at best, an added extra option, or quietly killed off.

Photo credits Tom Raftery


Potent Social Media Strategies for Utilities

I gave the closing keynote at the SAP for Utilities conference in San Antonio recently. I requested a video of my presentation, and I had it transcribed so I could post it here.

Good afternoon everyone. I?m painfully aware that I am the last thing standing between you and wine tasting, so I?ll try and keep this brief. I have 66 slides to get through in my presentation, so I?ll rip through them reasonably quickly and I don?t think there will be time for Q&A at the end but I?ll be at the wine tasting, so do please feel free to come up and ask me any questions.

Also my details are here. This is my best Steve Jobs? impression. You can see there my job title, my email address, my blog, my twitter accounts, my mobile phone although it?s over there at the movement, so no point in calling it right now and my SlideShare. SlideShare, if you are not familiar with it, is a site into which you can upload presentations and people can see them online at that site. I have uploaded this presentation to that site an hour ago and it?s already been seen over 200 times. So, you are the last guys to see it, sorry about that.

So, that?s me. Quick show of hands here, to see who you guys are. How many people in the room here work for utility company, okay. Good number of people. How many people here work for an organization that has an active social media account, be it a Twitter, Facebook? Reasonable number again, okay. How many people here work for an organization that actively blocks some of their employees from seeing social media? Quite a number as well, okay, interesting. Good that gives me a good idea of where to pitch the conversation.

So, I am going to run a video for you after this right, power of social media, if anyone doubts the power of social media, you might want to have a conversation with this chap, this is Hosni Mubarak former President of Egypt for 30 years, now behind bars, largely overthrown with a lot of organization done online using Facebook and Twitter. He is now being charged with corruption and murder, so, an interesting case study in the power social media.

So, I am going to run this video and it?s a video which gives you an idea of some of the things that are happening in social media at the moment. Some of the data points in it, and there are a lot of data points in it, so don?t try and take them all and just try and let it flow over you. Some of the data points in it are little dated to this point, the video was made about six months ago and so keep that in mind, things keep moving on at an incredible pace in this industry. So, here we go, I said here we go.

[Video Presentation – 00:02:45 – 00:07:02]

Okay, that?s my presentation thanks very much, kidding. So one thing I should about this slide, because I said it?s available on SlideShare, underneath each of the images, you?ll see a little bit of text there, it?s hard to read from here, it?s not meant to be read from here, it?s actually a clickable link, so if you do download the slide and I think Stephen maybe making it available as well through The Eventful Group site. Those links are clickable, so you?ll be able to go and find those videos and photographs and anything else that?s on the presentation.

So, that?s? all very good social media cures cancer all that good stuff, what does that mean for utility companies? Well, utility companies have a number of challenges facing them at the moment, they have a lot of challenges facing them at the moment, but there is a number of them in particular that I have identified that I think social media will be able to help with.

One of the things utility companies have is an aging workforce. The US department — the US Bureau of Labor Statistics has said that in the next 30 to, sorry in the next ten years, 30 to 40% of the utility workers are going to retire.

Now I was talking to Dave Fortis sorry Dave Legge sorry I am getting confused here, Dave Legge of FortisBC the other night and he told me that in his organization, that?s 50% in the next five years. So somewhere between 30 to 50% of employees are going to retire in the next five to 10 years from utility companies, that?s a massive loss of knowledge right there. It?s also a huge — it?s a huge challenge in the recruitment and retention area. Some of these things social media will be able to help with.

Utility companies have an image issue. They are thought of as at best boring by their customers and in some cases they have a bit of a credibility deficit. Consumers often are a bit wary of trusting utility companies when they say, we?d like you to use less power. They are facing, utility companies are facing increasing demands for energy at a time of dwindling supply and they are also facing increasing demands for things like customer service, for environmental footprint reduction and other things like that.

So, how can social media help? Well in the recruitment sphere, a very obvious one is LinkedIn. LinkedIn is a phenomenal channel for recruitment and one of the key aspects of LinkedIn that a lot of people may overlook is the groups? functionality in LinkedIn. This is the energy and utilities network, it?s a very, it?s a thriving community in there and for utility companies it?s a good place to go to kind of push out your brand, be knowledgeable, exchange information, get people on board and be seen as a company that?s plugged into social media and is willing to give away information that way your company?s brand is out there and it seem to be more social media savvy.

In terms of Retention, we saw a number of people in the room put their hands up and asked how many companies block social media, it?s a big mistake. Again, in a conversation with Dave from Fortis, he gave me a story of an interview situation where a young graduate was in an interview and there came time for the graduate to ask questions to the Interview Board, and he said, ?What?s your company?s policy on social media?? And the company said, ?Well, we block it. We don?t allow employees access to social media,? and his response was, ?Alright, thanks very much for your time,? and he walked out.

Now, that may well be an apocryphal story, but its indicative of a mentality in graduates who are now in university or who have recently left university they?re used to these tools, they use this tools all the time for information dissemination and for information collection. You bring them into your organization and you?ll need to, because you are losing a lot of people at the other end, you bring them into your organization and you have social media sites blocked, it?s like putting a rotary dial phone on their desk with a padlock on the dial.

So, another challenge social media can help with as I said is around image and the fact that utility companies were often perceived as boring. Another company that had this kind of stay and tired image was a company called Old Spice that makes men?s cologne and bath products and things like that. And they decided last year that they were to go on a bit of social media spree and rebrand themselves, will not rebrand but spruce up their image a bit. So they ran a serious of ads on YouTube and this one of them I?ll just run it for you.

[Video Presentation – 00:12:09 – 00:12:40]

This campaign went completely viral because that?s such a good add and then a ran a serious of follow up adds in fact they ran a 24 hour series of adds where people could submit questions on Twitter, and that actor would reply to the questions in a similar format. It went wild, it went ballistic, the ad itself has currently had about 36 million views on Twitter just that one ad, not all the other ads just that one ad, the other ads have lots of views as well. That?s cool, that?s great, but even more importantly Old Spice sale is increased 100% in the month following that campaign, and a year later they?re still up 50%.

The brand, the Old Spice brand has become sexy and cool and with a guy like that it?s obviously it?s going to be sexy, but it has become cool and hip and trendy.

I mentioned knowledge management and lot of knowledge walking out the door with the elder generation as they start to retire. Well, your not going to be able to suck the information out of their heads, not with an a device like this anyway, but what you can do, is you can start rolling out some social media platforms because the old knowledge management techniques never really ran so well, but when you make more interesting for people for people they start becoming more willing to share the information.

Now you don?t really want to be having the pointy haired bus type blogger on board, that one never goes down that well, but what you want to do is you want as you want to role as for example an internal blogging scheme, don?t bother trying to read that, it?s just an example, a screen shot of an internal blog at IBM. The blogger there is guy called Luis Benitez. One of the things to notice is, you see the little red circle up there, I?ve got that circling a way of recommending the blog post, if you are on the internal IBM blog and you read that blog and you go, ?that?s a good blog post, I got a lot out of that?. You can click on that little green button and it gets an extra star.

So it?s a rating mechanism for a blog posts on that internal platform, the IBM internal blog platform. IBM has got 18,000 blogs on their internal blog platform, 18,000 individual blogs and that?s a huge sea of information. And as people blog and I say put up posts they?re either recommended if they?re good or they?re not and they get lost if not good. You can see as well they?re on this platform on the right hand side, you?ve got similar blogs listed, so this is the one you find particularly, interesting you see similar bloggers there and that?s automatically generated based from the content.

On the left hand side you got a what?s called tag cloud, clicking an any of those words from the tag cloud get?s you related content. So, it?s an incredible way of getting information spread out through the organization and collate it back in again. And as I say there is 18,000 of them there, this other blog, it?s a friend of mine, a guy called Andy Piper. Andy Piper celebrating in this blog post his sixth anniversary as an internal blogger on the IBM blogging platform, so he he?s been out there six years, in fact the blogging platform, the internal blogging platform IBM has, has been going strong for eight years now.

So IBM have this stuff mastered and they?re not the only ones there is lots of other companies doing, but it?s a great way of capturing information and sharing it throughout the organization. You don?t have to just stick with blogs, you want to be taking a broad approach to this.

This is a screen shot of Wikipedia and just happens to be the SAP Wikipedia page, but the circle up there is circle you don?t bother trying to read it as far way I know and small but the circle there is circling the edit button, you might not have noticed it, but on every single Wikipedia page there is an edit button and this means you can click on the edit button and change the content of the page and that?s what makes Wikipedia so powerful, anyone can change the content of any page and the size.

So if you know something is wrong on the page you can go and correct it. And, an example of this for me that was really interesting was a few years ago when I was living in Ireland, I was working in the kitchen at home on my laptop and I had the radio on in the background. And it was around the time of the Papal enclave; they were electing a new Pope. And the radio was on I was listening to music and the next minute the news broke into the programming and said the Cardinals are out on the balcony in Saint Peter?s Square, we think they?re going to make an announcement.

And the next minute the voices start coming over speaking Latin, no idea what they were saying, but I heard the word Ratzinger, and I recognized he had been mentioned in a couple of previous news broadcasts as Cardinal Ratzinger, a German Cardinal who was up for the papacy. So I immediately pulled up Wikipedia, type in Ratzinger and I?m redirected straightway in real time before the Latin has finished to the webpage on Wikipedia of a Pope Benedict, whatever number he is. I started reading down through it and I see a section in it about alleged Nazi links in his youth and I call my wife over to look at and said, look at this and I refreshed the page and it?s gone. It?s been edited out, it turns out it wasn?t true what have been said there.

So it happens in real time, stuff is corrected. If you go in and you make a change on that SAP page or any page in there and it?s factually incorrect, the chances are within minutes it will be edited back out.

PBworks is a company that provides a hosted wiki for you, so I was using that when I based in an organization called [email protected] really good, there is a number of other ones I will show up in a second, I just happen to use this one, its hosted Wiki. What we use to do with that one in the organization was used to have weekly board meetings and whoever was taking the minutes would plug in their laptop to the data projector and they take the minutes and will be displayed upon screen for everyone who is in the meeting to see.

So everyone was watching the minutes as they were being taken and if people were given an assignment or signed up to do something, that was noted in minutes and their initials put beside it. And during the following week, they would go in themselves and update the wiki page on how they were getting on with their assignment. So that the following week, when everyone came to the meeting, everyone had already read the minutes of the previous one and the updates to it and then the next meeting happened everyone was on the same page, everyone saw that minutes for that meeting, so everyone saw and everyone signed off on the task that have been assigned and everyone saw in real time how they?re being updated, that?s just one used case for a Wiki, but is a really good one, it saves a lot of e-mails for example.

PBworks are one company that provide them, another one is Socialtext, another one is MindTouch they?re all good, I?m not going to recommend anyone above the other, they all provide the same kind of functionality.

If people are not into writing, maybe some people are better at speaking than writing, put up a video blogging platform for them or go around with the camera and just start interviewing people, asking them what they are doing and put up on a central site, or put up an YouTube and have it for internal viewing only if that?s what you want or let everyone see it, why not?

Well, they?re kind of communications platforms, and sharing and collaboration platforms are available, are ones like Salesforce?s which allows you internally to have a kind of a Facebook and a collaborative Facebooking application internally. You can invite customers in as well if you want or not, but it can be internal or internal and external. You get similar functionality from things like Huddle and this is SAP?s StreamWork application, which is reasonably similar as well, and this is Rypple. Rypple is a performance management application, which is collaborative and sharing and it?s open and transparent and everyone sees. So it?s another one of these applications.

The point about these applications is these are the kinds of applications that people are using in college at the moment, and these are the kinds of application and the kinds of functionality they expect when they go into their new employer and they will feel extremely restricted if they don?t have access to these kinds of tools which they?re already well familiar with and they?ll get frustrated if you don?t ? if you are hobbling their functionality, they?ll get frustrated and then move on and that?s not what you want.

This for example is a Google spreadsheet. Google provide spreadsheet functionality. In this particular screenshot it?s two people working on the spreadsheet at the same time. This spreadsheet is delivered via browser. There is two people working on it, the blue one and the red one. And over the right hand side, you can see a chat screen that is going on as they are talking to each other about the edits they are making to the spreadsheet and they can be anywhere in the world.

So those are some scenarios. They are customer service scenarios which are phenomenal that can be addressed using a social media as well. A great case study here is KLM. Last year when we had the volcano and the ash cloud over Europe, KLM hired a 120 people and put them full time in shifts, full time monitoring specifically Facebook and Twitter, the two key ones. And they had, they were monitoring them, they were looking for mentions of KLM and they were looking for KLM customers where stranded somewhere and they did their best and they went to all out until the ash cloud cleared up, they kept the volume of calls done at the call centre to a minimum.

It was so successful for KLM that they continued the program; they scaled it down because they didn?t need 120 anymore but they now have 23 people full time on social media, in their social media department, constantly monitoring mentions of KLM, reaching out to people, helping anyone who is in trouble.

There was a hurricane here, couple of weeks back up the East coast and a great example of response to a hurricane using social media was Baltimore Gas & Electric, it was one of the ones I found, there was a number of them, Baltimore Gas & Electric really went to town. You can see this is their homepage. And the yellow bit at the top is informational and you can click on links there and go in and get more information about Irene. But down on the bottom right there you see their links to their different social media channels and their Twitter one is highlighted and these are all links.

So on their YouTube page, they had 25 videos about Irene. The first nine videos, they put up about Irene where about preparation, getting ready for Irene is coming, this is what you need to do. The next 16 videos that they put up about Irene were about the restoration works that were going on the different parts of their constituency. So people who are frustrated because they are out of power, they — at least they knew that BGE which is going all out and they had people in different areas and they could actually watch them working and see interviews with the guys who were doing the work.

Not alone that, but they had a — they were monitoring Twitter as well. There were 4000 Twitter followers in their Twitter account. They were doing things like they were saying to people you can see the bottom on one there, they are saying to people, DM me your address and I?ll send you an ETR. DM is Twitter speak for send it to me privately so that no one else sees your address, send it to me privately, I?ll take a look and I?ll send you back an ETR, an Estimated Time of Restoration. They?re answering people?s questions and they are also telling people in the top one what percentage of restoration they?re out at this point.

On their Facebook page, they have something like what is it 5800 followers and again they are doing the same thing. They are looking at people going to their Facebook page, people were asking questions about the restoration and they are answering them in real time. They had a Flickr stream. Flickr is a photographic site, photo sharing site. They had a 158 photos related to Irene. So again people could go in there and they could see what was going on. And it?s not just Irene related stuff.

This is the playlists page on their YouTube?s channel. They have videos there related to community programs they are involved with, related to safety with electricity, related to news coverage they received, Related to smart energy and these are all groups of videos put together, you can go to any of those and check out any of the videos they have on them.

Dominion was another one that did real well. Dominion have — you can see the videos they have put up there, some of those videos have had 6000 views. People are really interested in finding out what was going on obviously under Irene. And Dominion?s Twitter account, they have over 7000 followers or 3000 tweets and again they were doing stellar job about keeping people informed.

This is PSNH?s video page. They weren?t as — PSNH doesn?t seem to be as out there on the social media front but the little circle I have there shows that this particular video that they put out there was picked up by a local news organization. And that?s interesting because if you are putting this content out there, the news organizations are hungry for content around this stuff because it?s a big story. And if you are controlling the content, if you are putting the content out there, then it?s your content that gets shown in the news. You are helping to write the story and it?s your story that?s been told in your voice with your people.

Now here is a thought for you. What if every truckload for an outage has a smartphone as a matter of course so that when they get to site there is an outage maybe a truck hit a pole or tree came down, the first thing one of the guys in the truck does is get there with the smartphone, take a quick video of what?s after happening, does a bit of a voice over it says we arrived here at this time on this date, this is what?s after happening, we reckon it will take us about an hour to fix, we should be back about this time and then he clicks a button to post it to YouTube. Entirely possible today. All it does, all it takes is process change.

And what happens? Your people on Twitter, your people on Facebook are monitoring the YouTube channel as soon as any queries come in, they direct all queries to the YouTube page. See this video on a YouTube page, this is what?s after happening, this is when you?ll be back up, we have people on the ground, this is them working on it. So now people know what?s after happening, know when the power will be back on and they are far less frustrated with the lack of power.

You can also do things like crowd source ideas from your customers. Dell had this IdeaStorm page, fantastic page they?ve had something like 16000 suggestions coming to them on this page. And the suggestions, I mean anyone can put in a ridiculous suggestion there, but what they do is they get everyone who visits the page, they give them the ability to vote up or vote down ideas and to comment on ideas. So far they have implemented nearly 500 of the ideas. So these are ideas that people are coming in and giving up Dell, please, please do this with the next laptop, whatever it is, add this functionality to it, and you know if people have come in and recommended this and commented on us and it?s an active idea. You have got an audience that is dying for this laptop or desktop or monitor or whatever it is. So, as soon as you bring that to market and tell people, we took your idea on board and here is the product. You?ve got a ready audience of people that just flock into it to buy it.

Starbucks did the same thing actually, and there are number of organizations doing that they are not alone. The platform that allows people to do that is one called Get Satisfaction, they?re a start-up out of California. There are platforms for companies to do this kind of thing, to crowd source ideas, to talk of brand evangelists. No SAP would be or no SAP talk would be complete without some reference analytics. So social media is an area that?s ripe for analytics and there is a lot going on that space as well and another video for you this time it?s from a source you wouldn?t expect it?s from Gatorade, the drinks people. And Gatorade have built a social media analytics application for themselves, but it gives you an idea of the kinds of things you can do with social media and analytics.

[Video Presentation – 00:30:26 – 00:31:41]

Powerful stuff. They say they?re tracking their own brand and I?m sure they are, but you know as well that they?re, they are tracking all their competitors as well. The application Mission Control that they are using there was built with the aid of a company called Radian6. Radian6 were bought by SalesForce a couple of weeks for a $340 million. Radian6 aren?t the only player in the game, IBM have a social media analytics application that they released earlier this year. Adobe have one, which they got by their purchase of Omniture, last year, for $1.8 billion, and SAS has one as well and there are a number of other players out there, there is a Advantech or something and there are few others and start up in various stages. So it?s a hot happening area.

So I mentioned energy management and the increasing demands that utilities are facing around energy and, you know, how can we affect that with social media. Well, firstly you got to be aware that according to this article study released not so long ago at least 95% of your customers are interested in energy management information or energy consumption information. And then you get these kinds of applications being released, this is one out of SAP research and it?s a kind of a prototype energy management application, it?s not that interesting really.

There is a metric called the mean time to kitchen drawer. It?s also known as the mean time to junk drawer. I think you know what it is, it?s, you get something, this energy management application and it?s all shiny and you flip on the light switch and the graph goes up and you flip off the light switch and the graph goes down and oh, that?s cool? for about ten minutes. And then a week or two later you might look at it again and a month or two later and eventually it?s consigned to proverbial kitchen drawer and you never see it again. So how do you fix that? Well this is the new smart meter analytics application that SAP are releasing. And they have gone some way towards fixing it.

They have got a little buttons there for sharing that information with your social graph, you can push it out to your Twitter account or your Facebook account and you know just push a button and you get this thing up and you click submit and it?s sent out to your site and that?s cool.

Digressing for a second, this is a site called Foursquare, nothing to do with energy. Foursquare is a location application, when you go somewhere you can check into that location on Foursquare which tells people where you are at this point in time. So I go to this hotel, I can check into this hotel on Foursquare and say I am here. And if anyone in my network is around I get notified that people I know are in the area and if I didn?t know that?s cool, it?s great I get to meet them, excellent I didn?t know they are in the area fantastic, so that?s nice, but as well as that it gives you tips and tricks on the things in the area.

So oh, there is a nice restaurant a couple of miles down the road, you might want to try out, it has all this kind of stuff as well, it?s a phenomenal resource. That?s nice again nothing to do with energy so far. What it also has though because you usually check in on a phone, right because it?s got your GPS and it?s something that?s always with you.

So when you check in on the phone and say where you are, if you?ve checked in there a few times there a possibility that you?ll be the person who?s checked in there most in the last X number of days and then you become the mayor of that location. So, on this one I became the mayor of this hotel in Milan. And you get points, so I got an extra five points for that check in, because I got, I stole the mayor ship from some Japanese guy and there is a leader board there.

So I went up the leader board, by those extra points and I am suddenly tied with John, John Peavoy, it tells me there, nice you caught up with John. So suddenly you are starting to get a bit of competition in there and that gets interesting. And then you start to get merit badges and achievement badges and all kinds of cooler things like that.

Now what if we take this energy management application and on top of that we layer in not just the ability to share it to Facebook and Twitter and Google+ and whatever social network is floats your boat, what if you have leader boards in these energy management applications.

What if you have achievement badges, what if you start adding in targets and scores, then it becomes fun, then you build engagement and you are empowering people and people are telling each other, see how we did last week on this energy management application, I pulled ahead an extra five points, awesome. And what if you start feeding that into schools programs so you get kids involved and you get the old pester power on the parents to turn off the lights and stuff like that. Then it becomes really cool and then it gets spread out there, then people start to become really involved. So, back to the challenges I mentioned at the start. Some of the things social media can help with making utility companies a little less boring, help with customer service and the better the customer service the more trusted the organization becomes. You start making the utility company become more sexy.

How many kids do you hear in school who say, oh I?d love to work for that utility company they?re so cool. I haven?t heard any but if you start making them more social media savvy and that company puts out ads like that after, Old Spice guy thank you, mind freeze, Old Spice guy, so start getting some handsome actors out there with, I don?t know, crimping tools, you know, what I mean, start making utilities sexy, start getting them social media savvy, start communicating with your customers in ways they want to hear about and then you start to resolve a lot of the kind of problems that are and the challenges that they?re facing at the moment.

Thanks very much.

By the way, I have a mind map of this talk at the end there. So, if you want to see the, kind of, wild things that went through my head as I was trying to build this talk, it?s there too.




Implications of the data explosion for utilities

At the recent SAP for Utilities event in San Antonio, I caught up with Martin Mysyk, Senior Architect for TransAlta and we discussed the implications for utilities of the massive data explosion that is occurring in their industry right now.

Here is a transcription of our conversation:

Tom Raftery: Hi everyone! Welcome to GreenMonk TV. I?m at the SAP for Utilities event in San Antonio, Texas, and with me I have Martin Mysyk, who is the Enterprise Architect for TransAlta.

Martin, we?ve been talking about the amount of data utility companies you?re going to be dealing with and the mountain? I heard a talk earlier this year in Orlando, where one of the utility companies was talking about the change in meter reads from 75 million a year to 120 billion.

Now, there is also the other side away from smart meters and into just the devices on the grid itself and the amount of information they will be sending back to utility companies, what are they going to do with all this information and how are they going to handle it?

Martin Mysyk: Well, I think we do have to look at new ways of handling that amount of data, how we?re going to store it, how we?re going to back it up. And we?re monitoring so many more data points as we move from an analog world to a digital world. There?s an acceleration of the amount of data points where some of our assets may have had a couple of thousand data points we?re monitoring, taking in.

Some of our newer instrumentation generates 20,000 data points that we can monitor. So, that?s a large amount of — big influx of data that we have to — you want to keep it real time and that takes new techniques, new technology that we have to look at to be able to keep that on track and to be able to extract the information out that we need.

Tom Raftery: Okay, but 20,000 data points, is that too much? I mean, how can utility companies make any sense of that amount of data?

Martin Mysyk: That?s where you need another level of intelligence to layer on top of what you?re retrieving out of there, because you really — you can?t read that from a human perspective, you need software that looks for exceptions or things that are out of range to deal with those because whenever things are operating properly you don?t care about it. It?s just when there are exceptions or something?s going to impact your production capability that you want to know about that.

Tom Raftery: At the backend you?re going to need bigger servers, you?re going to need bigger failover facilities and all that?

Martin Mysyk: Yes, and the network ties it all together. So, wherever that is stored only high-speed networks have a lot of band with to carry the data, whether its onsite or everyone talks about being in the cloud. If you put it in the cloud, you are going to need lots of pipes to get it there.

Tom Raftery: This sounds like a lot of investment for utility companies, is it worth it?

Martin Mysyk: I think so, because we have to be aggressive on how we manage our data and our decision making capability needs to accelerate, because when we move into a more comparative global marketplace you have to have that decision making power and to do that you need the — to make information out of your data and that is only going to accelerate as time goes on.

Tom Raftery: Cool. Great. Martin, thanks a million.


Big emphasis on mobility at the SAP for Utilities conference

SAP for Utilities

I attended the SAP for Utilities conference in San Antonio last week. I gave the closing keynote (which I’ll write-up in another post).

I was interested though by the fact that two themes recurred in all the opening keynotes.
1. All of the opening keynoters made mention of Social Media – this was a huge relief because my closing talk was due to be on Social Media, so the speakers were setting the stage nicely! And
2. Mobility was talked up big-time by the speakers

I had expected some talk of mobility, along with HANA, Smart Grids Cloud and Analytics – the usual gamut of topics at these events and they were indeed all addressed, but there was a definite emphasis on mobility over all other topics.

It is understandable – with the advent of tablets and smartphones, computing is going mobile, no question about it. I think it was Cisco’s CTO Paul De Martini who dropped the stat that 200,000 new android devices are being activated daily.

This impacts utility companies on two fronts:
1. On the customer front, utilities can now drop the idea of in-home energy management devices and, instead, assume the vast majority of their customers has access to a smartphone or tablet and
2. On the employee front, utilities have lots of mobile workers – the ability to connect them easily back into corporate applications will be game changing.

In my talk on social media strategies for utilities – I suggested that utilities equip every truck-roll with a smartphone. That way, when they get to site to repair a downed line (or whatever), they can take a quick video of the damage, the people working on-site, and in the voice-over give a rough estimated time of recovery. This can be uploaded to YouTube at the touch of a button on the phone and so, call center operators, and social media departments can direct enquiries to the video – immediately helping diffuse the frustration of having power cut.

Programs like this can even be pro-active and the customer service benefits of rolling this out should not be under-estimated.

Utilities are entering a new, more challenging era. Mobility solutions (especially when combined with social media) will be a powerful tool to help them meet these challenges.

Full disclosure – SAP is a GreenMonk client and paid travel and expenses for me to attend the conference.

Photo credit Tom Raftery


If Utilities don’t step up their customer communications, they risk their considerable smart grid investments

Smart meter

Smart grids don’t come cheap.

They are typically projects costing in the order of hundreds of millions of dollars (or Euro’s, or pounds or whatever your currency of choice). Just think, the most fundamental piece of the smart grid, the smart meter, alone costs in the order of $100. When you factor in the costs of installation, etc., you are looking at over $200 per smart meter. Therefore if you have in the order of one million customers it’s going to cost you around $200m just for the smart meter rollout.

Given that they are so costly to implement, you’d think utility companies would do everything possible to protect these projects from failure – not so, according to the latest smart grid research from Oracle.

The report from Oracle surveyed 150 North American C-level utility executives about their vision and priorities for smart grids over the next ten years. The findings are both interesting and disturbing.

It is interesting but not too surprising for example, that when asked to select their top two smart grid priorities over the next 10 years, they chose improving service reliability (45%) and implementing smart metering (41%) at the top of the list.

What is worrying though is that while 71% of utilities say securing customer buy-in is key to successful smart grid roll-outs, only 43% say they are educating their customers on the value proposition of smart grids. This is hugely problematic because, as I have written about previously, customer push-back can go a long way to de-railing smart grid projects.

And those who are educating their customers, how are they doing it?

Well, from the report, to communicate with their customers 76% of utilities use postal communications, and 72% use their own website. Only 20% use social media (and who knows how well those 20% are using their social media channels).

Tellingly, the report also mentions that only 38% of utility customers take advantage of energy conservation programs when they are made available. There are a number of reasons for this:

  1. the savings from these programs often require work on the part of the customer for no immediately visible benefit
  2. the savings are typically small (or put another way, energy is still too cheap) and
  3. Because of the extremely poor job utility companies have done on communications to-date, their customers don’t trust them, or their motivations. There is no quick fix for this. It will take time and a significant improvement in how utility companies converse with their customers before they start to be trusted

I have written lots of times over the years about the need for utilities to improve their communications.

Utilities have a lot of work to do rolling out their smart grids – but if they don’t step up their customer communications, they risk their considerable smart grid investments.

Photo credit Tom Raftery


Engaging people in the energy conversation

Green Numbers

I went along to the MashupEvent Energy 2.0 – Energy goes Digital get together in London last Thursday.

It was a good event with some interesting speakers, including Usman Haque of pachube, Ajit Jaokar from FutureText and Paul Tanner (self-confessed energy nut!).

The talks were good – for me, one of the more interesting learnings was how pachube is being used to crowd-source rediation readings from hacked Geiger counters in Japan! Seriously awesome stuff, and a real case of people using the pachube platform for purposes never dreamed of when it was first created, I suspect.

When the floor was opened for questions and discussion, some interesting topics were raised. When the question was asked from the podium, one brave member of the audience confessed to being from a utility (British Gas) and she went on to raise an interesting point – she said it was hard to motivate people to to make any changes. British Gas, she said, have offered people free insulation, which would potentially save them hundreds of pounds, and they don’t take up the offer.

This is not the first time I have heard these kinds of stories. Why is that?

Toyota Prius dashboard driving info

Toyota Prius dashboard driving info

There are a few reasons for this, as far as I can see:

  1. When you are getting electricity bills like the one above, you have no idea what your actual consumption is like day-to day, minute-to-minute. I bought a Toyota Prius a number of years ago and it totally changed the way I drive because of how well the consumption information is fed back to me on the dashboard – the same is not true for the Honda Insight, as I discovered when Honda lent me one to trial, so not alone is it important to give people information on their consumption, it is also vital to present it in an easily digestible way.
  2. People don’t trust their utility companies – traditionally utility companies only communicate with their customers (who they often refer to as ratepayers!) when they are sending a bill or when a bill is overdue. This form of communication is not particularly conducive to establishing a good relationship. The basis for any good relationship and thereby trust is communication. Utility companies need to radically step up their customer communications, but not in a way that is spammy. They need to engage with their customers on all channels (if my preferred method of communication is Twitter, I want them to engage with me there, if my Dad’s preference is phone – talking to a person, not an IVR, then that’s where they need to talk to him). This is going to be a hard lesson for many utilities to learn but they fail to learn it at their own peril and
  3. Energy is too cheap! Possibly fixing 1 and 2 will persuade people to become more energy efficient, but I suspect, the real driver for energy efficiency will only come along when energy becomes more expensive. Only when the cost of energy really starts too impact on people’s lives, will they start to pay attention. Luckily, that’s the direction energy prices have been going for some time now!

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Photo credit Tom Raftery


Friday Green Numbers round-up for Feb 4th 2011

Green Numbers

And here is a round-up of this week’s Green numbers…

  1. Europe’s Energy

    Member States of the European Union have agreed on targets aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions by cutting energy consumption by 20% and increasing the share of renewables in the energy mix to 20% by 2020. The ‘Europe’s Energy’ project gives users a set of visual tools to put these targets into context and to understand and compare how progress is being made towards them in different countries.

  2. Survey results: Utilities executives on Energy Efficiency and the Smart Grid

    The survey asked 106 utility executives ? the people that arguably know more about the energy supply and demand challenges our nation faces than anyone else ? a range of questions on the smart grid, energy efficiency and related topics and issues.

    We issued a press release today with some of the highlights, but to help put this week?s news into context, we also wanted to share a full breakdown of the results. Nothing earth shattering, but worth keeping in mind as the week progresses?

  3. 10 Smart Grid Trends from Distributech

    The annual smart grid event Distributech kicked off in San Diego Tuesday morning and ? as expected ? unleashed a whole series of news from smart grid-focused firms. From new home energy management products, to plug-in car software, to distribution automation gear, this is a list of trends and news from the show.

  4. US Venture Capital Investment in Cleantech Grows to Nearly $4 Billion in 2010, an 8% Increase From 2009

    US venture capital (VC) investment in cleantech companies increased by 8% to $3.98 billion in 2010 from $3.7 billion in 2009 and deal total increased by 7% to 278, according to an Ernst & Young LLP analysis based on data from Dow Jones VentureSource. VC investment in cleantech in Q4 2010 reached $979 million with 72 financing rounds. VC investment in cleantech in Q4 2010 reached $979 million with 72 financing rounds, flat in terms of deals and down 14% in terms of capital invested compared to Q4 2009.

    “In comparison to the early days of cleantech, the 2010 US VC investment results reflect a turning point in the industry due to improving credit and capital markets, the deployment of stimulus spending and increasing corporate cleantech adoption,” said Jay Spencer, Ernst & Young LLP’s Americas Cleantech Director.

  5. A jump at the pump – bad news for more than motorists

    Few trends cast shadows on economies and politicians like a rise in the cost of petrol. Barack Obama?s presidency, so far a minefield of crises, can add one more in the form of higher prices at the pump. Entering the last full week of January the average price of a gallon (3.7 litres) of petrol stood at $3.11, up 40 cents from a year earlier. Fuel has never cost so much in January, but that is unlikely to be the highest price Americans pay for it this year.

  6. Arctic Oscillation brings record low January extent, unusual mid-latitude weather

    Arctic sea ice extent for January 2011 was the lowest in the satellite record for that month. The Arctic oscillation persisted in its strong negative phase for most of the month, keeping ice extent low.

    Arctic sea ice extent averaged over January 2011 was 13.55 million square kilometers (5.23 million square miles). This was the lowest January ice extent recorded since satellite records began in 1979.

  7. Despite emails and cold winter, 83% of Brits view climate change as a current or imminent threat

    The public?s belief in global warming as a man-made danger has weathered the storm of climate controversies and cold weather intact, according to a Guardian/ICM opinion poll.

    Asked if climate change was a current or imminent threat, 83% of Britons agreed, with just 14% saying global warming poses no threat. Compared with August 2009, when the same question was asked, opinion remained steady despite a series of events in the intervening 18 months that might have made people less certain about the perils of climate change

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Photo credit kirstyhall


No, energy is not too cheap!

Dumb Thermostat UI

Is energy too cheap to motivate consumers to change their habits and use less?

In the Smart Grid Technology conference I attended in London last week a number of discussion points came up over and over again. I wrote already about how utility companies are wondering how to engage their customers around smart grid projects. Another topic which raised its head frequently was the question of how to motivate customers to change when energy is so cheap!

The obvious answer is to raise the price of energy, and this will happen over time, but it is the wrong answer – in the short-term at any rate.

The issue is not that energy is too cheap, rather it is that people have lots of demands on their attention. To make it worth people’s time to become involved in energy saving activities, if the return is not very high (because energy is cheap) then the process of reducing energy consumption needs to be made simple!

Look at the thermostat above. This is the thermostat to control the central heating/air conditioning in my home. I like to think I am reasonably technical. I have been a Windows sysadmin for a multi-national company, managing Windows, Exchange, Active Directory, ISA and SQL Servers. I edit php files regularly, I remotely manage my own CentOS server via SSH and I’ve even done quite a bit of regex scripting of .htaccess files!

But this thermostat is beyond me!

I know it has a timer, so it should be possible to set it to come on and off at pre-arranged times. Should. Getting it to do so seems to require a Stephen Hawking-like intellect. And, even if I did manage to figure it out, it is so unintuitive that the next time the clock goes forward (or back), I’d have forgotten again and would need to start over! Which begs the question, if my phone knows when to change its clock forward or back, why doesn’t the thermostat – but I digress!

This is far too much hassle entirely. So I don’t use the timer in my thermostat. Or any of its functionality (apart from on/off). And I’m far from being alone in this.

Home energy management systems have, to-date, suffered from having appalling user interfaces. Consequently, no-one uses them. Why would they? They are hard to use and energy is cheap. The room is too hot? Rather than trying to figure out how to turn it down, just open the window!

However, if energy management were made simple and no effort were required to make changes, then it wouldn’t matter nearly as much that the savings were not substantial.

Making energy device interfaces easier to use is no silver bullet mind. This kind of approach needs to be combined with a culture of increased client communications, as I outlined in my earlier post. However, combining these two strategies would go a long way towards making people energy responsive.


Utilities developing more of a customer focus

SAP for Utilities

I attended the SAP for Utilities conference earlier this week in Huntington Beach and I have to say I am impressed by the progress American utility companies are making towards being more customer centric!

The event was titled Sustainability for the New Energy Era and there was a full track dedicated to Smart Grids (obviously I attended almost all of the talks in this stream).

Attendance at the event was surprisingly strong with around 800 delegates despite the current economic woes.

This is the third SAP for Utilities event I have attended and I have to say I was very pleasantly surprised at this event by the number of times customer needs were referenced. Almost all of the Smart Grid talks mentioned the need to involve consumers in the process. Obviously, this is a point I have been banging on about for some time, but it is fantastic to see that the utilities are starting to finally get the message.

One of the best presentations of the event came from Paul Lau of the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD). SMUD is very unusual amongst utilities in its fanatical focus on its customers – from its About page:

For each of the last eight years, SMUD has received the highest customer satisfaction ratings of any utility in the state in the J.D. Power and Associates survey. SMUD received the second-highest score in the nation for commercial customer satisfaction in 2010.

One reason for this is that Sacramento Municipal Utility District is a community owned electric utility governed by a seven-member elected Board of Directors. SMUD are far from being unique in this model. During Paul’s talk he highlighted other reasons why SMUD is so popular amongst its customers.

SMUD take customer feedback very seriously – in fact, they solicit it. SMUD holds regular focus groups of their customers to find ways they can improve their offerings.

Also, the Board of directors goes out and holds meetings in the community to educate customers about the need for smart grids and consequently they don’t incur any of the blowback which plagued PG&E’s efforts in this area.

Paul commenced his address by paraphrasing Bill Clinton and saying that utilities need to realise that “it is the customer, stupid!” Now, coming from a utility co., that is refreshing!

Lastly, SMUD uses the term customers, not consumers or worse, ratepayers, as many utilities do. Just that slight shift in the lexicon says a lot about how SMUD prioritises its clientbase.

Utilities could learn a lot from SMUD’s focus on the customer – the good thing is that judging from the conversations I had at the SAP for Utilities event, the tide does appear to be turning in that direction.