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Energy data: What are U.S. consumers getting today from smart meters?

Feedback is a major benefit of smart meters. Consumers can better manage their energy use when they can access their energy information to see what’s working. A recent global study by the think tank VassaETT found such feedback allows consumers to cut total electricity consumption by an average of 8.7%.

What sort of energy information is being provided to consumers? Details vary, but in the U.S., several states are providing similar high-level functionality…

Kansas. For its SmartStar program customers, Westar Energy’s website provides:

  • Bill-to-date.
  • Projected month-end bill.
  • Energy cost per day.
  • Energy usage trend (comparison to last month).
  • Energy usage by month, day or hour.
  • Environmental impact.
  • Email and text alerts for consumer-selected budget thresholds.
  • Weekly or monthly email summary reports.

In this video Westar explains its online energy dashboard:

California. In a July 2011 decision the California PUC set forth data access rules which the utilities are implementing. Regarding data access:

  • Utilities must provide free online access to data backhauled from the smart meter to the utility, the day after it is recorded.
  • Consumers must be able to view their detailed energy usage, bill-to-date, month-end bill forecast and projected month-end energy price.
  • Utilities must provide access to the same data to third parties authorized by customers via an OpenADE interface.
  • Utilities must allow direct access to the data from the meter via the smart meter’s home area network interface (OpenHAN), initially through pilots of up to 5,000 customers. If desired, this could also deliver data to third parties via the customer’s internet connection.
  • Consumers must be able to sign up for “tier alerts” — text messages or emails sent by the utility when the customer’s usage shifts from one pricing tier to a higher-priced tier. California residents typically have three prices that increase with usage over the month. For example, one price for the first 300 kWh, a higher price for the next 300 kWh, and the highest price for usage above 600 kWh. Details vary by utility.

Texas. In its decision adopting smart meter functional requirements, the Texas PUC specified that distribution utilities must:

  • Offer direct, real-time access to “customer usage data” via the OpenHAN interface. For example, a customer might view real-time data on an in-home displaysuch as those offered by CenterPoint. The OpenHAN interface is live on most of the nearly 5 million smart meters installed in Texas.
  • Be able to communicate pricing and control signals via the OpenHAN interface to load control devices and prepaymentsystems.
  • Provide 15-minute usage data — every day — through Smart Meter Texas, the free web portal shared by the state’s four major distribution utilities.

Unlike Kansas and California, Texas does not require customers’ cost data be provided as part of smart meter data access. This is because Texas has competition among retail electric suppliers, who bill the customers. Texas distribution utilities do not bill customers — so they do not have the cost data to give them — a different situation from Kansas and California.

But in the competitive Texas market, retail providers do provide free online access to bill-to-date. Reliant and TXU Energy (the two largest) offer weekly emails with energy usage data that include cost data similar to that provided in Kansas and California.

What’s missing? All of the above is great, but overlooks two of the most important and valuable energy data services:

  • Bill comparisons for different pricing plans using the customer’s actual data.
  • Estimated energy usage by appliance.

The good news is that these are coming. More on this in a future post…