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Uses for real-time energy data? Finally experts are explaining this in plain english!

by Murray Hogarth
posted on Sunday, April 18th, 2021
UK-based consultancy Delta-EE has done a great job of compiling and sharing analysis from a Great Britain and Eurozone perspective, and its ‘top 10 use cases of real-time energy data’ list resonates significantly with Australian experience. Stand-out differences are Australia’s dominant focus on rooftop solar, and electric vehicles being more prominent in Europe.

 

MURRAY HOGARTH: ON MY WATTS

When I logged into a webinar last week I was hoping for an intelligent, accessible discussion of real-time, and near real-time energy data.

The title popping up in my email inbox a fonight beforehand had attracted my attention: The top 10 use cases of real-time energy data. 

I wasn’t sure I’d get the answers I was hoping for, based on many years of disappointment surrounding this subject matter here in Australia.

Over a decade ago, in Wattwatchers’ early days, it was quite common to be scoffed at during conferences when asserting the merits of real-time energy data to empower consumers, versus on-bill tips and averages.

I’ll always remember a particularly patronising put-down when I suggested using the internet to deliver granular energy data (back then the smart meter industry lobby wanted its own dedicated national broadband network, and I was assured by the expert panel that the internet couldn’t handle the volume of energy data that would be unleashed by digital metering).

The rise of cloud computing put an end to that data delusion down under, but fast forward to 2021 and still only about a third of Australian homes even have smart meters. 

The webinar, meanwhile, was a pleasant surprise

So what did I like? UK energy transition consultancy Delta-EE successfully did the following:

  • Differentiated from smart meters per se
  • Defined ‘real-time’ and ‘near real-time’
  • Mapped key players in the British and European markets
  • Usefully segmented data-driven customer interactions
  • Nominated value-adding use cases (and explained them simply)

What do so-called ‘smart meters’ actually do?

Delta-EE asked: how developed is the consumer-facing real-time energy data market in Europe?

At a high-level, the answer is that to the extent the space exists, it is dominated by software-as-a-service (SaaS) offerings that are are based on data from standard not-so-smart utility ‘smart meters’, or in some cases more technologically-progressed Automatic Meter Reading (AMR) or Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI). 

Delta-EE notes that only a few energy retailers across Europe currently offer ‘(near) real-time services which send consumption data immediately after consumer’s energy behaviours’.

In some European countries, meanwhile: ‘In practice, the data transmission process can take several days.’ (Which also can be true with smart meters in Australia. Even in Victoria, which had a costly mandatory smart meter roll-out nearly a decade ago, but has never extracted maximum value from a $3 billion investment that consumers ultimately paid for.)

From a Wattwatchers point of view, the big difference in Australia when compared with Europe is the high per capita uptake of rooftop solar systems by homes (now approaching a quarter of all households, or over 2.6 million homes).

This means that there are alternative sources of energy data to smart meters, including smart inverters and smart devices like Wattwatchers. 

What is the ‘real-time’ energy data range?

This is how Delta-EE explains it:

  • ‘Truly real-time’ energy data – refers to sending energy data and analysis to the user interface within 1 second after consumers’ energy behaviour
  • ‘Near real-time’ – the data is near real-time if it is sent within 10 seconds
  • ‘Enhanced’ – the data is enhanced if it is available within several minutes or even hours
  • ‘Real-time experiences’ – these are created via timely alerts using non-real-time data (e.g. demand response alert at peak times)

In the Wattwatchers world, near real-time can be delivered with 5 second measurements and data transmissions, but this puts pressure on costs when using the most reliable communications option, cellular.

In practice, Wattwatchers has opted for 30-second streaming ‘short energy’ data to strike a workable balance between timeliness and ongoing costs, with the heavy-lifting being done by 5-minute time-and-date stamped ‘long energy’ data. 

From the Delta-EE analysis, Wattwatchers ranges between ‘near real-time’ and ‘enhanced’, which is a good place to be when you compare it with between 15 minutes minimum in the best countries, and days for utility smart meters in the laggard ones.

Who are key players in the UK and European markets?

Delta-EE offers a country breakdown of real-time data users and market players in Europe and the UK, of which a relative handful are names that are familiar in Australia (such as Smappee, Schneider Electric, Engie and Octopus Energy, which announced a tie-up with top tier Australian retailer Origin Energy in 2020).

It’s a little surprising to me that Delta-EE hasn’t done more to incorporate other smart energy data technologies into its viewfinder, including inverter systems, but rooftop solar uptake by households is the big differentiator between Australia and most other markets in the world.

How can we segment the customer interactions?

Personally, when I think about the value of real-time, near real-time and enhanced energy data for consumers, I tend to lump it all into empowering customers with timely and independent data (especially when compared with Australian utility bills that typically are 1-3 months in arrears).

But I appreciate why Delta-EE has gone deeper into segmentation, significantly because its research and analysis perspective is influenced by an energy retailer point of view – because retailers are core to Delta-EE’s own customer base, and are the main vector for customers to receive energy data.

The Delta-EE segmentation is:

  • Engagement – starting a conversation with the customer
  • Empowerment – help customers take action and do it their way
  • Collaboration – working with customers, making them a ‘business partner’

Wattwatchers has always started with the consumer’s own point of view, rather than the energy retailer one. But in a future grid that is clean, fair, smart and affordable – which is what we really want – the best interests of consumers and industry will be aligned, and data will make outcomes transparent to all!

So what are the top 10 use cases of real-time energy data?

Delta-EE groups these into its three customer interaction segmentations – engagement, empowerment and collaboration. While it has talked of a ‘top 10’, it hasn’t tried to rank them in terms of their individual impact and importance relative to others on the list.

ENGAGEMENT

  • Home awareness and monitoring
  • Reduction of energy bills and carbon footprint
  • Higher quality of energy insights

EMPOWERMENT

  • Fault detection and prevention
  • Connected home and HEM (home energy management)
  • Pre-pay (pre-paid power bills)
  • Elderly care monitoring (Wattwatchers has dubbed this ‘Is Nanna OK?’)

COLLABORATION

  • EV smart charge optimisation
  • Solar PV optimisation
  • Automated and behavioural demand response

There are no big surprises on the list, but Delta-EE did an excellent job in its report and webinar of explaining each in plain english.

As part of the webinar, it conducted snap (dare I say it ‘real-time’) polls of the hundred or so webinar participants, who ranked engagement has the greatest real-time data opportunity today (39%); and collaboration as the greatest opportunity in 3 years time (44%).

Key takeaways from Delta-EE’s work

For me, for starters, I’d like to see this kind of discussion in Australia more often. It stands out because it’s the data and its granularity that takes centre stage.

During webinar Q&A, the question of barriers to uptake of real-time data came up, with cost and physical installation of smart energy devices being the standouts according to Delta-EE’s digital energy customer expert, David Trevithick. These map strongly to Australian experience.

For Wattwatchers, and our competitors, the holy grail is a business model that allows multiple use cases to be supported by the same infrastructure – creating ‘layers of value’ spread across consumers themselves, service providers, the electricity system and the wider economy.

Plus, it’s an exciting prospect that EV smart charge optimisation is on the real-time energy data radar. It could become as big an opportunity as solar optimisation, or even surpass it!

DELTA-EE LINKS

Webinar recording on YouTube

Webinar slide deck

Podcast ‘Talking New Energy’

Contact David Trevithick

Website

 

Murray Hogarth is Wattwatchers’ Director of Communications and Community Networks

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