How Federal Legislation Could Change Digital Energy Data

Will utility customers across the U.S. be legally entitled to access their own energy usage data? And if so, how hard will it be for utilities to deliver that data to customers? We’ve already seen how California is planning to tackle that tricky subject, and now a Senate bill would bring the same issues to a national stage.
In my latest Weekly Update at GigaOm Pro (subscription required), I cover the implications of the Electric Consumer Right to Know Act, or e-KNOW act, which was introduced by Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) and Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) last month. While the current gridlock in Congress makes passage of any bills uncertain this year, it’s likely that e-KNOW will serve as a template for some kind of eventual federal regulations on energy data.
So what’s in the bill? On many points, e-KNOW seems to echo the California Public Utility Commission’s recent proposed ruling (PDF) on the subject. For example, it mandates that utilities must provide their customers their own energy data in whatever format it’s available, as soon as possible.
It also makes it clear that customers own their own energy data, and are entitled to share it with third parties of their choosing. There’s good reason for smart grid companies to be pleased by a bill that would mandate broad consumer access to energy data, since they’ll need that data to deliver energy control and saving services to customers.
At the same time, e-KNOW follows the lead of the CPUC in requiring that utilities turn over customer data in a way that “provides adequate protections for the security of the information and the privacy of the electric consumer.” Just how utilities are to simultaneously open data to customers and keep that data secure — and how smart grid companies’ plans to use energy data might come into conflict with consumer data privacy policies — remains to be seen.
At the highest level, however, the significance of the e-KNOW Act lies in its move to nationalize a utility regulatory process that now goes on mainly at a state-by-state level. While California is among the first states to lay out such broad proposals for how to balance utility customer energy data access and privacy, other states such as Texas, Pennsylvania and Colorado are also busy working on their own rules. By placing nationwide oversight in the hands of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, e-KNOW would create a nationwide set of regulations — a development worth keeping an eye on.
Image courtesy of flickr user steakpinball