What Online Ticket Selling Can Teach Us About Data and Energy Innovation

Posted by Hannah Polikov on Jun 1, 2017 4:51:52 PM

This blog post is based on remarks delivered at “Securing Smart Grid Data,” a forum sponsored by the Lexington Institute. Video of Polikov’s talk is available here. 

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The other day, I decided I really wanted to go see the Broadway Musical “Hamilton.” So I went online, and pretty quickly I realized two things: 1) Even though it’s been running for two years, the show is still completely sold out, and 2) You can get tickets, from resellers. I’m not talking about finding some guy standing on the corner an hour before curtain, scalping tickets. The aftermarket for Hamilton tickets is a very sophisticated, innovative marketplace. There are lots of different sites connecting sellers and buyers and there are sites that aggregate those different sites, very similar to what Priceline or Kayak does for airline tickets. Those of us who want to see consumer-focused innovation in energy could learn a lot from this.

Technology, digitization, big data, and innovation have come together to make markets work in a way that was never possible before. But we have seen little of that in the energy marketplace. While Amazon lets me buy almost anything I want from anyone in the world and iTunes lets me buy any song from any artist I can think of, the highly regulated and monopolized electric power sector has, by and large, not taken advantage of these new possibilities. It’s not for lack of technology and it’s not for lack of data. More than half of American households now have smart meters and those smart meters produce a treasure trove of information. The problem is that the entities who have access to the data – utilities – are not innovative, data companies. It’s just not their business. And the companies that are innovative in the use of data, and could make great use of it, generally don’t have access to it. 

How can we fix that? How can we “free the data,” and put it in the hands of those innovative third-party companies that can use it to the best effect, while also protecting important things like customer privacy and data security?

As a basic premise, we believe that customers own their own energy data. You paid for the smart meters that are collecting it, you produce it every day, it’s yours. Since it’s your data, you should have a right to share it with whoever you want at your discretion, and it should be easy for you to do so. You shouldn’t have to jump through lots of hoops, and find a fax machine to send in an authorization form that takes three months for the utility approve. It should be a simple one-click, online real time authorization process.

And that data should be free of charge. Through your rates, you’ve already paid for the meters and the other supporting infrastructure that make the data collection possible. The data already exists. Making it visible to a third party should have little to no additional cost to the utilities, so they shouldn’t get to charge for it. That said, if the utilities want to do something with the data that actually does add value – like doing some sort of analysis that reveals trends or identifies opportunities, for you or third-party companies – then they should be allowed to charge for that, but not for the basic, underlying data. 

How do you make sure the data is secure? Look to best practices from the financial system. Trillions of dollars move through the system every day and everyone uses online banking ... except for my father; he still prefers to go to the bank and talk face to face with the teller. What can you do?

Even the CIA is now using the Amazon cloud to store its data. Why? Because innovative, online tech companies like Amazon know how important data security is and they specialize it. It’s their business.

At Advanced Energy Economy, we work on behalf of innovative technology companies to help utility commissions around the country improve their access to data policies. We see this data access as central to our mission of making the grid more secure, clean and affordable.

Some of the leading states to watch on data access include Texas, New York, Maryland, and California. Here’s what they’re doing:

  • Texas is trying to simplify what is currently an onerous 10-step process for providing customer data access to third parties. Note that the process is onerous despite the fact that Texas has already adopted Green Button. To read the advanced energy industry’s suggestions for improvement, see comments filed with the Public Utility Commission of Texas by the Texas Advanced Energy Business Association (TAEBA) here.
  • The California PUC was similarly motivated to remove unnecessary barriers to data access when it passed an order last summer requiring simple “click-through” authorization for customer data sharing. For more details on what the advanced energy industry sees as data access best practices, see the letter sent to the CPUC here.
  • In New York’s Reforming the Energy Vision (REV), where access to data is seen as critical to enabling an active energy marketplace, the Commission stated in its Track 2 Order that customer data will be provided to customers and their designated third-parties free of charge. That will include basic data, which the PSC defines as all the data used as billing determinants, as well as granular time-interval data (once smart meters are deployed). AEE’s most recent comments on data access in NY REV can be found here.
  • Maryland has a working group exploring data access as part of its PC44 effort, “Transforming Maryland’s Electric Distribution Systems to Ensure that Electric Service is Customer-Centered, Affordable, Reliable and Environmentally Sustainable.” AEE’s comments on how Maryland can maximize the value of its smart meter investments by “freeing the data” can be found here.

Time for one last story. Last weekend, my husband, my three little ones, and I went to test drive a new car, the Chrysler Pacifica plug-in electric. It’s the first plug-in electric minivan on the market. The salesman told us it comes with an app on your phone that lets you set what time to charge it. That will let you take advantage of special rates that your utility may be offering to encourage you to charge in the middle of the night, when demand on the grid is generally low. That’s the convergence of technology, digitization, big data, and innovation by third parties. If we can free the data, we’ll see a whole lot more of it.

We can't get you into Hamilton either, but we do have an upcoming event that's even more informative about the energy market! Join us June 21 for Pathway to 2050 in Sacramento, Calif. for a day of discussions surrounding California's advanced energy leadership. Check out the agenda and register at the link below:

Register to Attend Pathway to 2050

Topics: PUCs