Beyond the Meter: Lessons from Commerce and Industry
- Written by Tariq Samad
Elements of the smart grid already are widely deployed in commerce and industry. Experience in those sectors shows that as homes are equipped with communications to regulate energy use, it will be essential for consumers to own and control their detailed power data, and to have direct meter access.
Much of the smart grid buzz revolves around homes. As homeowners or tenants, each of us is a personal stakeholder in the smart grid. But deployment of smart grid elements is at a very early stage in the residential sector. By contrast, in the commercial and industrial sectors (C&I), the smart grid has been yielding benefits for many years—well before the term became common currency.
To take an example from my own company, Honeywell's Novar business helps large retailers achieve 20-40 percent improvement in energy efficiency and maintenance costs and 10-20 percent reduction in peak use. Providing energy management and control systems (EMCS), remote energy management services, and relying on the Internet and standard protocols for communications, Novar manages customer sites in the United States representing about 6 gigawatts of load.
Commercial and industrial facilities account for the greater part of electricity use (they represent about 60 percent of consumption in the United States). Accordingly, the experience gained with smart grid applications suggests several important insights for homes:
Lesson #1: Consumers should own and control their detailed consumption data
Utilities and energy companies need access to consumption data for customer billing and to assure grid reliability. But beyond that, consumption information must be under customers’ control—any sharing must be with their explicit authorization. This is standard practice in C&I; particularly in manufacturing and process industries, where some companies view their consumption profiles as competition-sensitive and protect this information carefully.
For homes, detailed consumption data can reveal whether a property has been unoccupied for some time, how occupants live, and—if research underway succeeds—what appliances are being used and when. Most homeowners do not want such information falling into the wrong hands; especially since these wrong hands can be on keyboards anywhere in cyberspace.
Lesson #2: Consumers should have direct meter access to their consumption data
Real-time or near-real-time access to consumption data is critical for managing electricity use and expenditures. Even before the advent of smart meters, commercial and industrial companies were investing in advanced metering technology that could monitor and communicate this information to their energy management systems.
Homeowners will also need near-real-time access to monitor and manage their consumption, receiving immediate feedback on the effect of switching loads on and off, for example. Direct communication of data from smart meters to inside the home is the only feasible approach for providing acceptably short delays, on the order of a few seconds. Such direct communication is also more cyber secure than convoluted routes via the utility or third-party networks.
Lesson #3: Demand management information should be communicated over existing infrastructure wherever possible
Commercial and industrial customers rely on the Internet and other existing media to obtain price signals and other messages from utilities and service providers. So why should we seriously entertain proposals for large-scale deployment in the residential sector of alternative advanced communications systems? To be sure, a small minority of consumers does not have access to Internet, cellular, or other existing communication infrastructure and will need to rely on meter-based communications.
Substantial economic savings, energy use reduction, and peak shaving are already being achieved with smart grid technology. To take another example, Honeywell Utility Solutions has delivered demand response programs for almost 20 utilities in the United States and Canada, helping them achieve a combined peak load reduction of one gigawatt. Other success stories from C&I sectors are highlighted in a webinar that can be streamed at the IEEE smart grid portal. The presentation, which Brian Markwalter of the Consumer Electronics Association and I delivered, includes a section on residential consumer perspectives on smart grids.