Six ‘i’s’ of the data-driven, technology-enabled energy transition: integration, interoperability, intelligence, internet (of things), investment and installation

Known widely simply as ‘JJ’, the independent Chairman of Wattwatchers Justine Jarvinen is a deeply-experienced executive in the energy innovation space, and currently is the CEO of the UNSW Energy Institute. This post is drawn from her recent panel presentation for the Energy Efficiency Expo Australia’s 2020 virtual conference, at a session (held on October 15th) called ‘Innovative Energy Technology: Including AI, Automation, Big Data and Blockchain’. The multi-speaker panel was chaired by Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) Director, Bianca Sylvester. The post has been lightly edited and reworked to suit the blog format, while retaining the essence of JJ’s conference presentation.


Good afternoon, everyone. As Bianca said, I wear a few hats, and today I’ll be wearing my Wattwatchers Chairman’s hat. I’ll be talking about the six ‘i’s’ transforming electricity and energy efficiency. I’ll explain them in a minute. They are integration, interoperability, intelligence, internet (of things), investment and installation.

Back when I headed up the Emerging Technologies function at AGL Energy, I was constantly being pitched technology from local and international companies.  I saw so many examples of energy management solutions, distributed energy tech, and monitoring and control devices that were underwhelming or simply didn’t do what they said on the tin.

I was constantly frustrated by the yawning gap between the potential of smarter buildings and a smart grid, and the solutions that were available. I saw very few technologies that made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. One of the times I did get excited was when I saw the services being provided by Solar Analytics, a company that uses Wattwatchers’ fabulous hardware; AGL made an equity investment to access the opportunities that the technology opened up.

Fast forward a few years and, after I’d left AGL, I was invited to be the independent Chairman of Wattwatchers, and I jumped at the opportunity because I’d never seen anything like the quality and potential of Wattwatchers’ solution suite. I’ll briefly explain Wattwatchers, then give you a sense of what’s already being achieved by a number of companies we work with that are radically transforming electricity products and services, and then also provide you with a peek over the horizon at what’s coming next.


A snapshot of Wattwatchers

Wattwatchers is a technology company; we are focused on intelligent, open and non-proprietary, consumer-friendly solutions for an electricity-powered 21st century. We monitor and control electricity through the cloud in real time.

While lots of companies claim to do this, several things make Wattwatchers much more ubiquitous and hence much more powerful.

Our solutions suite spans hardware devices which we can install on any circuit in a home or business, or embed into devices like HVAC units at the point of manufacture. Our solutions also include datasets, analytics, software and Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity, for both energy and non-energy applications across lots of use cases: home, community, commercial and industrial, and utilities.

Our horizontal Energy Data Hub model promotes technology collaborations, with 40+ third-party partner integrations with our RESTful API – in Australia, and internationally. Our product brands include: Wattwatchers – Digital Energy (hardware and data to the cloud), ADEPT (agile IoT platform for managing multi-technology fleets in real-time), and (our new native app).





The six ‘i’s’ shaping our energy future

Deep integration and interoperability – across not only energy technology assets, but also sites and loads of all kinds, including mobile ones – frame the major challenge and opportunity for the energy transition.

While many players, including technology vendors, espouse the benefits of everything working together seamlessly; the reality is that hardware interoperability and data integration is often elusive if not outright unachievable.

Integration and interoperability are two of the six ‘i’s’ required to transform electricity for the data-driven grids of the near future. The others are intelligence, especially of the artificial and machine learning kinds; the Internet of Things (IoT); investment, which will increasingly (and necessarily) come from outside of the traditional energy companies; and installation.

These inherent challenges are magnified even more because it’s not just energy assets and systems that need to work together more effectively.

Future grids will have to conduct the intelligent energy orchestra across millions of generation points, storage systems, electric vehicles and their chargers, other mobilities and utilities, and site and circuit level loads.

Industrial processes and production timetables, and all manner of power-consuming appliances and machines, need to be coordinated with grid, network and local requirements. I’ll take you through a few specific examples of how other companies are achieving each of the six ‘i’s’ for transforming electricity using Wattwatchers solutions.


1. Integration (especially grid integration)

As of last month, in South Australia, if you want to install, upgrade or alter embedded generation (such as rooftop solar PV) you must now comply with new government requirements and must appoint a ‘Relevant Agent’.

The Agent is tasked with remotely controlling the output of the embedded generator in emergency conditions, when directed by the South Australian Government or the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO), in coordination with network business SA Power Networks.

This monitoring and maintaining safe levels of solar PV generation is intended to reduce the risk of major blackouts.

Wattwatchers has been listed as a compatible technology solution provider by SA Power Networks (in its new and additional role as a ‘Relevant Agent’). Our API-enabled devices and our brand new Agent-as-a-Service (AaaS) business model enable any inverter to meet the new requirements in South Australia.

The Agent-as-a-Service model is being built on our ADEPT platform, which has Internet of Things (IoT) integration and machine-learning capabilities. So, we offer Agents, Aggregators, inverter manufacturers and others a smart-but-simple entry point to immediately address these new regulatory changes.

I predict that, in future, similar provisions to SA’s requirements will become Australia-wide requirements, with the objective of integration and the nirvana of interoperability. AEMO already is working on this, with Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia likely to be next. It’s worth noting that data from Wattwatchers devices deployed in South Australia, provided by Solar Analytics and Wattwatchers through an ARENA DER project, has helped AEMO to better understand its on-grid challenges with solar inverter performance.

2. Interoperability (and the rise of one-to-many solutions)

I already alluded to interoperability when I said that Wattwatchers allows any inverter model to be remotely monitored, and controlled by switching, under the new regulations in South Australia.

Because Wattwatchers does circuit-level monitoring and control, we aren’t limited to solar inverters; we are also able to integrate with other meters, understand whole of site consumption, get data from digital weather stations, from batteries, all manner of loads, like aircon, refrigerators, large machines, compressors, lighting, e-forklifts and more.

Energy tech used to be one device to do one job. Just think of all the solar, battery and hybrid inverter brands and models in the marketplace, and the interoperability challenges that this proliferation of options is creating. And that’s not even allowing for all the other things on a site, or all the things that will be added to sites in future, such as more batteries or EVs.

So the future is agnostic, needing a one-to-many technology (not locked into one-to-one technology tie ups, e.g. not limited to an inverter manufacturer portal for solar devices and another portal for smart meter devices, etc.)

One-to-many creates multiple services and sources of value on top of physical integration. In this vein, Wattwatchers also offers a customised Solar Operations Centre (SOC), allowing management of fleets of solar installations across multiple sites and wide geographies, including O&M, and connection to other business platforms such as CRM and work order systems.

A Wattwatchers Solar Operations Centre, with IoT integration capabilities built in, shifts fleet management from clunky to highly-coordinated.

Now I’ve been talking about grids and fleet operations, but we’re also transforming consumer and customer experience. Our new My Energy Marketplace (MEM) is a multi-year project backed by $2.7 million in grant funding from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA).

The MEM is about getting multiple use cases out of a single installation, developing apps and T&Cs and engagement models for consumer participation. It will transform our smart energy dashboard into a multi-application platform to empower energy consumers with data, choice and portability. Our vision is to create an energy app store on our platform, with our apps and others’ apps as well.


3. Intelligence

Our partners, strata energy experts Wattblock, are using Wattwatchers to provide residential strata buildings with special energy monitoring.

At the first apartment block we worked on together (102 Alfred Street South, Milsons Point) in North Sydney, Wattblock has used Wattwatchers highly granular data to show they have helped the strata committee to reduce common property electricity consumption by more than 25% over the past 18 months.

Now, armed with real-time granular data, the strata committee is evaluating the potential for further savings by replacing an ageing cooling tower; and was able to provide valuable data to assist in planning for electric vehicle charging infrastructure for owners.

Our partner Wattblock’s CEO, Brent Clark, says this has the potential to take strata building assessments to a new level. ‘With real-time, more granular data, we can bring the power of machine learning into the equation.’


4. Internet of Things (IoT)

The internet of Things is a seamless combination of both hardware and software operating at a very granular level.

Picture a 3-tonne HVAC system dangling from a heavy-lift helicopter as it is delivered on to the roof of a ‘big box’ store, like an Ikea or a Bunnings, where maintaining comfortable air temperature and quality is a crucial operational challenge. These kinds of systems are also installed in major storage facilities, especially for pharmaceuticals.

This is what Wattwatchers customer Fusion HVAC does as its core business. There is a Wattwatchers energy IoT device already integrated inside its air-diffusion modules, making the HVAC unit more intelligent and remotely controllable.

This case study shows that while many Wattwatchers devices are installed to monitor and control rooftop solar PV installations in homes, or to manage common assets in strata apartment blocks, they are just as at home in huge commercial and industrial settings and equipment.

What I also love about this story is that we have a Modbus integration with the PLC in the HVAC modules, so through our hardware we are providing both energy data and the cloud uplink for the PLC which also includes data from other sensors that is uplinked through our Wattwatchers device into our ADEPT IoT platform, and then to the customer’s own software. We are providing an IoT integration platform through our little devices. 


5. Investment

As any facility manager or Energy Services Company knows, the cost of installing and operating hardware is a major issue.

Wattwatchers hardware typically costs up to 60% less than more traditional sub-metering services for commercial buildings, and up to 80% less outlay for industrial deployments.

Because we have such a low-cost sub-metering solution, we can provide site segmentation as deep as our customers like. For the same investment you might have done with more expensive conventional sub-metering, you can now go deeper into veins and capillaries of the site depending on how much value is at stake. And for these prices, we include monitoring and control of energy assets, and monitoring of other assets and sensors.

What’s the benefit of this investment? Well, I’ll provide an example of a data centre (collectively, the world’s data centres are on track to use 5% of global electricity).

Our partner Evergreen Power Solutions installed 130 Wattwatchers devices into 6 floors of data centre facilities across 2 nearby buildings. Evergreen uses Wattwatchers data at every stage of the process, to get baseline first, before they design their full intervention; then they use data to design their interventions and energy efficiency outcomes that they will guarantee; then they use the data to verify achieved the outcomes; then use data ongoing to maintain performance at site and to go back to customer regularly to update them towards the objective of signing customers up for future contracts down the track based on proven performance.

Thus data has value across the lifecycle of the energy efficiency project (in the above case study power consumption reductions of >50% were achieved, with power bill savings of $24,500/month).


6. Installation

I know from my time at AGL, when we commenced services to install solar and batteries and digital meters, that the challenges of hardware installation on site is always an issue for energy technologies – it’s massively difficult to get technology installed cost effectively and working out of the box.

There are requirements for both electrical standards and for communications. Relying on WiFi or on a third-party cloud connection is fraught.

Hardware installation of the future will need electrical skills AND comms skills AND IT skills.


Electrician Glenn Beames installing a Wattwatchers device.


Wattwatchers devices are easy to install, because the core of our toolkit is on-site installation support through an onboarding app. We provide ongoing installation support through our fleet management tool and dashboard. And our devices can work with WiFi, 3G, 4G, and Modbus.

This means ESCOs and building managers can retrofit sub-metering and basic control without communications cabling and network hardware.

We’ve worked hard to ensure that our devices work out of the box. And we’ve had the experience of having more than 40,000 of our devices installed in Australia and overseas.


In conclusion

With the right quality and granularity of data, assuming that it isn’t hidden behind proprietary walls, that dataset can improve the customer experience, do customer segmentation, reduce working capital, create new products and services, reduce system prices and improve system reliability.

It will enable outage predictions and recovery, demand response, distributed energy resource optimisation, and system optimisation.

We are seeing the tipping point. Gone are the days when we’ll be installing ‘dumb’ devices that connect to the grid. More governments will insist on having control over site export, and they’ll want site-level energy visibility as well – currently Wattwatchers devices are being installed at several hundreds of schools across Queensland, as part of that state’s Advancing Clean Energy Schools or ACES program, to provide the Queensland Government with enhanced visibility.

And with the proliferation of solar PV, batteries, electrification of vehicles, electrification of industrial machines and processes, and with such tight focus on costs of energy and commitments to decarbonisation, we’ll need all of the six ‘i’s’ I’ve outlined to have any hope of maintaining a stable, reliable, affordable electricity supply for households, SMEs and industry.


‘At my house in NSW, my old spinning disk analogue meter provides 4 cumulative readings a year, if the meter reader can be bothered to come into my back garden. Usually they can’t be bothered, so I’m billed on the basis of estimated reads unless I contact my Retailer with my own meter reading information. If I upgrade to a so-called smart meter, I could get 30- minute meter readings, delayed until 6am the next day, which is 48 energy consumption readings per day. But, of course, I have a Wattwatchers auditor installed at my place, which provides more than 106,000 energy-related readings per day. That’s a lot of data. And I don’t have to wait until tomorrow for the data. I can get it right now.’ – JJ