While 2011 held the promise and controversy of continued utility smart meter rollouts, 2012 may end up becoming the year of submeter.
Coming on strong as part of the emerging Enterprise Smart Grid market, these devices, which provide visibility to energy consumption at a granular and trackable level of detail, are set to see faster adoption in the coming year. As government, utilities, vendors and end-users have slowly shifted toward a “prove it to me” mindset, the submeter becomes the weapon of choice to document energy related performance.
While the devices themselves are not new, their use will expand as a result of growth applications which require their capability. We’ll see them used more by:
- Companies looking to gain visibility into the current energy consumption of their largest systems and into nighttime and weekend or “off shift” load
- ESCOs providing measurement in their performance contract guarantees
- Demand Response providers confirming for ISO/RTOs that demand has been reduced during events
- Solar installers needing production detail to be eligible for solar RECs payments and
- Commercial and industrial customers producing measurement and verification for their utility rebates
- Industrial firms trying to allocate energy costs to specific product lines, cost centers or government contracts
In the past submeters have brought with them the challenge of data management and reporting. We’ve seen Groom Energy customers who previously installed them across their facilities, but have no easy way to access the volume of information these meters continuously produce. With 2011′s recent flurry of newly introduced multi-user, Internet accessible, database-friendly energy software management solutions, this burden of gathering, managing and providing easy reporting from these distributed submeters will now be reduced.
And once a manager sees the fabled “energy dashboard” showing submeter energy consumption data, you can bet that manager will be ordering a few more of them…
Sub-metering your main meter is a fundamental start to developing a comprehensive corporate energy management strategy. But since this takes time, money or one of the few utilities that offer this as a free service, many companies don’t yet have this visibility.
Unless by chance they’ve signed up for Demand Response.
One of the main compliance hurdles faced by Demand Response providers is proving to the utilities that they’ve reduced demand during DR events. The ISOs need to confirm that the load reductions have been reached or exceeded and without that confirmation the DR providers don’t get paid. So to track their reductions, DR providers typically install their own sub-meters at their customers’ main meters. These sub-meters are connected back to the provider’s network operation, either through the customer’s internet or a cell phone, and enable the aggregation of performance data for the ISO across all of the providers customers.
Sub-metering doesn’t come cheaply, but the good news for DR providers is that they need only front the initial capital cost, as they can deduct these costs from future monthly customer payments. (Not surprisingly, many prospective DR customers learn about their sub-metering costs only as they are signing their contract.)
Ironically, the technical infrastructure DR providers use to initiate customer load reductions (the ultimate reason they’re getting paid) is a little less sophisticated. It’s called outbound calling. ”Hello, this is your DR provider calling, we’re having a demand event, can you please turn stuff off or turn on your generator?” While there is a current effort to make this more automated (called the OpenADR initiative) the phone remains today’s technology of choice.
But the bonus for DR customers, on top of the their monthly DR payments, is new visibility to main meter 15-minute interval data. Rarely before have corporate managers had easy on-line access to this intra-day, intra-week and intra-month graphical display of their consumption. And guess what happens when they see it?
They ask lots of questions.
Which is a good thing.
A thesis for Enterprise Smart Grid is that this type of engagement is only the beginning of the process. Main meter visibility leaves the management team asking for finer granularity on where consumption may be happening – which can be gained through additional sub-metering. And finer grained visibility leads to the need for finer grained control, in order to manage down the consumption where it can be avoided. And this visibility and control ultimately becomes integrated into the organization’s objectives, with on-going measurement, more intelligent procurement based on newly reduced consumption and proactive energy efficiency upgrades for assets that warrant an upgrade.
So perhaps by signing up for DR customers gained something much more valuable than their monthly DR payments?
Of course the conventional view is that the smart grid market will be “huge” – and the target for smart grid today is squarely on the residential market. So it shouldn’t be missed that within days of each other both Google and Microsoft killed their initial home energy software applications.
First came Microsoft, shutting down their Hohm effort, saying “due to the slow overall market adoption of the service” they would focus instead on the commercial market. Then came Google announcing it was stopping support for PowerMeter, their consumer home energy visibility tool, saying it had “not scaled as quickly as we would like.”
This is not the first time a high tech company has overestimated the adoption rate for home networking and software applications. And the reason for the overestimate is similar to earlier miscues.
Home networking is hard.
When a consumer needs to plug hardware from one company into software from another, things get tricky. It’s the reason why most homeowners still don’t have their home printers hooked up to Ethernet. It’s why Apple’s Airport Express is mostly used for a single application; rebroadcasting iTunes.
Unless it works out of box with a plug, home networking system integration projects are only for serious DIYers. Not to say there hasn’t been progress with early smart meter rollouts to the home, but the facts are today it’s still very early.
Even a programmable thermostat is too hard for the consumer, so Comverge has found a way to turn this into a utility DR delivery business. Unless the utility pays for and implements early home networking apps on the backs of their initial smart meter rollouts, adoption in the home will continue to move very slowly.
At least Microsoft says they’re focusing now more on commercial market applications, a practical shift for them. Businesses have IT and facility managers. They can deal with hardware and software integration projects – directly or by using outside service providers as they do already.
And the bulk $ savings for energy application networking in businesses is more significant – which makes the pain of figuring out which plug goes into which box more worthwhile.