Access to Data: Bringing the Electricity Grid into the Information Age

Posted by Coley Girouard on May 3, 2018 11:00:00 AM


A successful transition to a 21st Century Electricity System requires consideration of a range of issues that will ultimately redefine the regulatory framework and utility business model while creating new opportunities for third-party providers and customers to contribute to the operation of the electricity system. In this fifth in a series published by Utility Dive based on AEE's regulatory issue briefs, AEE explores data access to enable customers to make choices about their energy use with the help of non-utility companies. 

Data is the lifeblood of today’s economy, driving change and stimulating innovation in every industry from banking to healthcare. Although the electricity industry has lagged behind in taking advantage of the many benefits that a data-rich environment can provide, the growing deployment of smart meters is changing that. Smart meters — technically, advanced metering infrastructure — provide granular customer and electricity system data that support innovation and creativity that utilities and advanced energy companies can use to bring the electricity industry into the information age.

Timely and convenient access to granular energy usage data can help customers track and manage their energy use; equip utilities and competitive suppliers with the information necessary to develop new and innovative customer offerings; empower third-party (non-utility) companies to animate the market for distributed energy resources (DERs); and enable utilities to transition to a more customer-focused culture and business model. While the amount of available data has increased, it remains largely in the hands of utilities, so the question becomes: How can utilities best utilize all this data and make it available – and useful – to customers and third parties?

Data access takes three basic forms: customer-specific usage data; aggregated, anonymized customer data; and utility system data. Each has its place in a modern electricity system.

  What is it? Why is it important? Examples
Customer-specific usage data Data commonly found on a utility bill, such as account numbers, meter numbers, rate class, location on the grid and retail providers used. Depending on metering capability, can include daily, hourly, sub-hourly and/or near real-time energy usage data. It allows customers to track and manage their energy usage, but the real value will come from enabling utilities and third-party DER and energy service companies, with customer consent, to process the data, providing customized and actionable insights to customers. A retail supplier can offer pricing based on individual usage profiles to optimize the energy market for the consumer; a solar photovoltaic installer can better pinpoint which customers would benefit most from a rooftop array.
Aggregated, anonymized customer data Customer-specific usage data that is aggregated and anonymized to ensure privacy. Gaining access to this data through the utility would provide a cost-effective means for third parties to enhance their DER products and services, and in turn provide more value to their customers and to the grid. A behavioral energy efficiency company could develop new and innovative products and services that apply broadly to targeted customer classes or locations.
Utility system data Information on circuit-level distributed generation (DG) hosting capacity or locations of the grid with capacity constraints or power quality problems. Can help providers determine the best places to locate DER and respond to system needs with cost-effective DER solutions. Also enables utilities to develop targeted solicitations. An energy storage company could use the data to propose a project in a highly congested area that would be cheaper than building new traditional “poles and wires” infrastructure in that area.

While the benefits of increased data access are clear and numerous, there are several key questions to consider to ensure smooth implementation of data access policies and regulations:

  • What can be done to enable robust participation by customer-authorized third parties in the marketplace?
  • How can utilities and policymakers increase understanding and engagement among industry participants and end-use customers?
  • What types and granularity of data should be made available?
  • What regulations, privacy standards and authorization processes are needed to ensure consumer privacy and confidence?
  • Should utilities be allowed to charge third parties for access to data, and if so, when and on what basis?
  • How will success be measured (i.e., what are the criteria that matter?)

Many states have already or are currently grappling with these questions.

Over the past few years, the Public Utility Commission of Texas has been investigating changes to Smart Meter Texas (SMT) — a web portal that provides data access to customers and authorized competitive service providers — through several dockets (42786, 46204 and 46206). Most recently, commission staff filed a formal petition on August 16, 2017, to open a new docket 47472 to determine what changes, if any, should be made to the existing SMT requirements (AEE state partner the Texas Advanced Energy Business Alliance has been involved and a final decision on a proposed settlement is expected in early May).

In July 2017, the Illinois Commerce Commission issued an order encouraging utilities to consider adopting an Open Data Access Framework to enable a marketplace for new products and services and utilize investments made in advanced metering infrastructure. In an August Resolution (E-4868), the California Public Utilities Commission approved a new click-through authorization process that streamlines, simplifies and automates the process for customers to authorize their utility to share their energy-related data with third-party demand response providers.

Experience from early adopting states suggests that the following steps can help regulators, policymakers and utilities design and implement a process that best fits their specific needs and circumstances:

  • Lay the foundation: Policymakers should implement foundational policies to enable a data-rich energy environment as soon as possible. Policymakers and regulators should then direct utilities that have not already done so to submit a business case for deployment of advanced metering infrastructure to ensure availability of actionable granular energy usage data.
  • Develop a data exchange infrastructure: Once utilities have collected the necessary data, they should implement a system that provides this data to customers, their retail suppliers (as applicable) and customer-designated third parties. The most scalable way to provide this information to customers and then subsequently to third parties is by a data exchange standard across all utilities. AEE recommends the adoption of Green Button and Green Button Connect as the leading standards for this purpose.
  • Incentivize adoption: To animate the market for energy services, utilities must be incentivized to develop an accessible data platform and raise customer awareness and understanding of opportunities to reduce their energy usage and costs. Utilities can be incentivized through new business models, opportunities to provide value-added data services, or performance metrics that reward them for achieving increased customer engagement and information access.
  • Streamline customer release of data: A customer’s authorized release of data to a third party (and similarly, the process of the customer simply accessing their own data) should be a simple and seamless experience. If not, the customer will likely abandon the process of releasing data, and programs dependent on the use of the data will not achieve their full potential.
  • Facilitate access to other forms of data: Beyond making individual customer data available to customers and their authorized third-party providers, regulators should also consider whether utilities should make aggregated, anonymized customer data and utility system data available to third parties to further facilitate development of energy products and services.
  • Safeguard data: Regulations that protect customers and safeguard data are vital to ensure customer privacy and confidence in the market.

Timely and convenient access to utility and customer data is a necessary and vital component of moving the electric utility industry into the digital age, unlocking value and engaging customers in new ways. The sooner that all participants in the electric industry can access, analyze and act upon this data, the faster it will be able to stimulate innovation and drive toward a modern, high-performing grid — and the sooner electric utilities, advanced energy companies and customers will benefit.

 Download the Issue Briefs