We hear a lot these days about the Internet of Things (IoT) and how connecting all sorts of devices is going to give us all the data we need to make faster, better decisions. This should come as little surprise to anyone in the electric utility industry because few other vertical industries have been collecting detailed customer data longer than utilities, which have long had a meter on every customer home.
But the amount of data utilities now have access to is growing exponentially. We’ve got smart grid technology providing detailed data on generation and transmission systems. Intelligent thermostats, outlets, next-generation meters and even appliances are all offering up detailed usage data. Detailed weather data likewise plays a key role.
Today the name of the game for utilities is applying analytics to help make sense of all this data and enable more effective programs and communications with customers. Let’s look at one example of how these systems can work together with the proper analytics behind them.
A smart meter will tell a utility that a particular homeowner uses a lot of energy at certain times of day, or days of the week. Add in smart thermostats to the mix and now the utility can easily determine to what extent that the HVAC system is driving peak energy use for a given homeowner, or group of homeowners. With appropriate demand response (DR) or time of use (TOU) programs in place, the utility can take steps to encourage those users to cut back their energy use during peak periods.
Now add in weather data and utilities can predict when they’ll need their DR or TOU programs most and get in touch with target customers early in the game, to get them on board.
As you can see, the amount of data that’s now involved in this kind of equation goes far beyond what was available with a simple meter. What’s more, the data is dynamic, constantly changing. Only an advanced analytics system will be able to keep up with that kind of quantity and constant change.
Utilities have little choice but to invest in such analytics systems if they want to keep engaged with customers and offer the kind of services they find valuable. Whereas once the electric utility was one of the only players that had a foothold – the meter – in each customer’s home, now all kinds of companies do. Whether it’s your Apple TV, Xbox console or apps on smart phones and other devices, all kinds of companies are collecting more and more information on their customers.
Utilities can’t afford to be left behind. Customers will expect them to keep pace. A customer who buys an electric car is going to expect the utility to make it easy to determine the best time to charge it – without having to think about it much, if at all. And the more customers get in tune with renewable energy and the need to reduce energy use, the more they’ll be willing to turn to their utility for tools and programs that can help – if utilities have offerings in place.
Deploying smart meters and the infrastructure to collect data is a good first step, but utilities will need to also embrace and deploy advanced analytics in order to take full advantage of the opportunity that the IoT world presents.