Customers are mostly ignoring it. Utilities are largely drowning in it. Technology firms are trying to parse it.
Electricity usage data lies at the heart of efforts to remake the US energy sector, and smart meters that enable more-detailed usage data production are actually a challenge for both the customers trying to understand their power bills and can complicate the efforts of generators accustomed to blunt tools when managing complex and delicate generation infrastructure.
“Every market has its own rules,” Constellation Energy Senior VP of Demand Response Peter Kelly-Detwiler told Breaking Energy recently. Tools that allow customers real-time access to power markets are the logical outcome of the “dream of competitive markets,” Kelly-Detwiler said, but the existing tools often fail to offer the kind of “surgical” demand-response that is actually helpful in boosting the efficiency of the power grid.
Demand response programs allow customers to cut back on electricity use when prices are high, and many utilities now have programs that give back part of the money saved by not using the power to consumers. Automating that process has been successful in boosting participation, but the compelling real-time and gradated response mechanisms that allow customers to choose when and how to prioritize their electricity savings remains a challenge.
“It’s 1:15pm: do you know what your air-conditioner is doing and how much its costing you?” Peter Kelly-Detwiler
Constellation, a power company rooted in a legacy electricity generation business in Baltimore and currently the subject of a major takeover bid by Exelon, has devised a technical solution for commercial and industrial customers it says can navigate the complexities of the electricity markets on a real-time basis.
Constellation’s VirtuWatt platform has a lot of competition in demand-response data management, but Kelly-Detwiler says the technology has performed well and is scalable, although different regulatory systems – and regulation changes – require reconfiguring for different markets.
The VirtuWatt system includes access to markets in one-minute increments, and can be used via an iPhone app. Real estate management companies have been early adopters of the technology as they seek to save money, a focus among federal environmental regulators concerned about efficiency and emissions as well.
Acknowledging the security concerns surrounding the streams of data that are produced by tools like VirtuWatt, Kelly-Detwiler says Constellation has adopted a rigorous approach that mimics that taken by banks with online access. Annually, a security firm is engaged to aggressively test the security aspects of VirtuWatt and to try and hack into the system, but they have yet to succeed, he said.