A San Mateo, Calif.-based startup called Space-Time Insight has raised a $20 million series C investment round led by London-based firm Zouk Capital. Space-Time provides a platform for analyzing and visualizing streaming data, and is gaining traction in the utility sector. We profiled the company in 2011, specifically its work with California ISO to put real-time energy data on an 80-foot screen in the agency’s control room. Space-Time closed a $14 million series B investment round last September.
In an interview at the Verge Conference last week, Opower’s founder and a Senior Advisor to the White House discuss why energy data should be open, how utilities will deal with the influx of big data and how government can help. Check out the video:
One of the year’s largest smart grid conferences — DistribuTECH — closes today in San Antonio, Texas. It’s like the CES for utilities, power companies and the vendors that are trying to sell them stuff. Here are the top 10 trends I took away.
Energy software startup EnergyHub is powering around 100,000 connected thermostats in the U.S. with its management software, and those thernostats are producing around 5 billion data points each month. What kind of trends will that big data reveal about Americans and energy consumption?
On Wednesday U.S. Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra and half a dozen utilities plan to announce the official launch of the Green Button initiative, which will enable utility customers to easily download their energy consumption data with one click.
Last month, the California Public Utility Commission published a proposed ruling on how utility customers’ energy data must be protected. The first deadline for interested parties to comment on the state’s new proposed rules has come, and, there’s still plenty of confusion over the fine print. A common theme is also emerging: The CPUC’s rules will need to change to avoid stifling the smart grid–home energy marketplace.
Are you curious about California’s groundbreaking rule-making over consumer energy data privacy and access? So are all the parties involved, and with the deadline for initial comment to the California Public Utility Commission’s proposed ruling (PDF) on the subject approaching, those parties are making their views known. Utilities Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison recently filed comments on the ruling, as have the expected corporate interests including Verizon and the Demand Response and Smart Grid Coalition (DRSG), as well as privacy advocates such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Center for Democracy and Technology. But we’ve also got some new entrants into the comments space, including the heavyweight trade group Consumer Electronics Association and a less-predictable set of comments from retail giant WalMart. I’ll be reading through the comments filed by these and other parties over the weekend, and expect to have an update for you early next week laying out the key points of contention — stay tuned. As a key market for smart grid, smart meter and home energy management technology, California’s rules could well influence how other states — as well as the federal government — end up dealing with the tricky issues of how utilities can give their customers free access to their own energy data while protecting its privacy and security.
The emergence of the smart grid means that a wealth of energy data is starting to pour from the power grid. Utilities and startups want to leverage that data to deliver services to customers and make money in the process — all while protecting that data from misuse. California has made some recent steps to introduce data privacy rulings around consumer energy data, but a new Senate bill introduced last week would move these questions to a national stage.
The federal Electric Consumer Right to Know Act, or e-KNOW Act, has the support of smart grid industry advocacy group Demand Response and Smart Grid Coalition (DRSG) and member companies like Schneider Electric, Tendril and others (PDF). While the current gridlock in Congress makes passage of any bills uncertain this year, it’s likely that e-KNOW will serve as an important template for federal energy data regulations down the road.
Federal Versus State Rules
The e-KNOW Act would put a single federal agency, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), in charge of setting guidelines for just how the bill’s requirements are to be enforced. A bill that runs only 10 pages long can’t settle every detail, of course, and e-KNOW would give FERC up to six months to establish “minimum national standards” for states and utilities to adopt. FERC will be asked to work with the Department of Energy, the National Institute of Standards and Technology and state utility commissions to set up these rules.
This would be a major change in the way utilities are now regulated, which is mainly on a state-by-state basis. Besides California, states such as Texas, Pennsylvania and Colorado are also busy working on their own rules. No doubt smart grid industry groups like DRSG and others are eager to see how such overarching federal rules will help, or hinder, the ways they plan to do business, and how they may affect or alter the state-by-state rules they’re already looking to comply with.
The Balance of Making Data Available and Keeping it Private
Under e-KNOW, utilities will need to offer customers with smart meters access to the data from the meter itself. That in turn could provide an incentive for utilities that haven’t yet to switch on their meters’ meter-to-home networking systems. Smart grid players that can help utilities make the transition smoothly could reap those benefits by landing more utility contracts.
The bill also says that customers own their own data and can share it with third parties of their choosing. For utilities that haven’t given customers smart meters yet, the act requires an alternate route by which to share data from the utility, such as a system like Google’s PowerMeter, which delivers backhaul data from utilities to customers.
At the same time, utilities would be required to protect customers’ data security and privacy. In fact, e-KNOW appears to prioritize these requirements over data delivery, stating that any system that utilities choose “shall not interfere with or compromise the integrity, security, or privacy of the operations of a utility and the electric consumer.”
Just how utilities and smart grid vendors will both deliver data in the fastest, most technologically advanced means possible and protect that data from misuse or theft remains to be seen. Some smart grid companies are seeking to monetize customer energy data, whether by analyzing it to improve the service they deliver to customers or putting it to their own moneymaking uses. We’ll see if these business plans conflict with consumer data privacy policies to emerge from e-KNOW.
The Costs Involved
E-KNOW states that customers should be able to access their energy data “free of charge” but also would allow utilities to “recover in rates the cost of providing the information, if the cost is determined reasonable and prudent.” In other words, utilities can pass the costs on to customers via rate increases rather than up-front charges.
Some observers have noted that the costs of giving consumers their energy data could quickly overwhelm utilities, particularly when privacy protections need to be taken into account. Startups or businesses that can offer utilities a cheap yet secure technology and business model for getting this data delivered to customers will likely see a lot more acceptance with utility customers.
Question of the week
Ontario, Canada has what’s arguably the fastest-moving effort in the world to link up smart meters, time-of-use pricing and residential customers — and that means it’s had to deal with issues of energy data privacy longer than most. Dr. Ann Cavoukian, Ontario privacy commissioner, is speaking at eMeter’s smart energy leadership conference in San Francisco this morning to lay out just how Ontario’s “Privacy by Design” system might help other states and regions — like California — handle the issue of privacy. Indeed, Cavoukian said that San Diego Gas & Electric would partner with her office to instill Privacy by Design into its new variable pricing program — a first for California. PbD is too complex to get into here, but Cavoukian stressed the need for a “user-centric” approach to put transparency and accountability terms clearly in front of customers. She also warned that aggregate data, stripped of personal identifiers, can be used in all kinds of data mining and analysis operations — but that “you have to think clearly about what that involves, and whether it can be tracked back to an individual user.” Companies like Google, Microsoft, Intel, HP, Cisco, Schneider Electric and eMeter — and startups like Tendril, EnergyHub, Control4, Onzo, AlertMe, OpenPeak and many more — all want to get access to smart meter data and utility “backhaul” data to deliver energy management and automation services to homeowners. But that data also needs to be protected to avoid abuse, from unwanted data mining for marketing purposes to warrantless surveillance by law enforcement agencies. Just how the data is collected, who “owns” it, and how it’s managed are all tricky questions — and regulations are only starting to catch up to technology on this front. Stay tuned for more — I’m doing a report on California’s new proposed energy data privacy ruling (PDF), and welcome comments on your opinion.
The big smart grid news today is that Duke Energy has tapped Echelon to provide smart meters for a $1 billion project encompassing Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky. Echelon will also provide Duke with “powerline communications infrastructure,” essentially Broadband over Power Lines (BPL) for the smart grid. Despite the tantalizing possibilities, BPL proponents shouldn’t pin their hopes on this limited use case (ferrying energy data back and forth) as a savior for a technology that just won’t die. I suspect, however, that it won’t stop some from regarding the smart grid as BPL’s white knight.