Smart Energy Event – User and Interoperability are the key issues

On 9-11 October 2012, together with colleagues from Loughborough I have attended the exceptional event on smart energy in Amsterdam which includes the smart home, the smart metering and smart grid conferences and exhibitions. Over 6600 smart energy experts attended the event, showing that this is the industry leading meeting place for across the board smart energy professionals. As a whole there was a strong focus on two key areas: (i) industry to steer toward the user “customer” of the smart home and smart metering technologies (i.e. what do users want and need?), and (ii) interoperability of the different systems (devices, sensors, appliances etc.) and the communication protocols used by different manufactures, if this industry to take off. In summary here are few points from some presentation which I have found very interesting to share.

First here is an extract from the opening session: ….Progressive utilities are placing the consumer at the heart of smart grid and are devising transparency in billing and various consumer engagement programmes to build rapport and trust. On the policy and decarbonisation level, electrification of heating and transport is hotly debated; electricity is being generated at household levels; large scale wind and solar farms are pushed by EU to meet its low carbon targets; finally liberalised electricity markets ask for new business models and financing structures. Turning into reality, these trends require utilities to rethink the way they invest in generation, transmission, distribution, trading and sales….

From Toshiba Research Europe Limited, UK, Dr Mahesh Sooriyabandara has presented on understanding effects of technology interventions (ICT, feedback methods etc.) on energy use behaviour. The learning from the 3e-Houses project which is an EU funded smart metering pilot can be an eye opening. They applied theory-based interventions to understand causal determinants of behaviour and behaviour change.

One of the interesting panel sessions which I have attended is entitled: What is the key to unlocking mass market participation in smart homes? What could be a ‘killer app’? This talk explored the experiences of a range of stakeholders each looking at the market from divergent perspectives. We asked what incentives can be offered to induce better engagement levels. Can the Apple phenomenon of slick style combined with smart technology create waves in this market or does it boil down to more pragmatic questions of financial incentives and billing solutions? Who will lead this market in years to come and on what basis? At the end of the session no one knew what the killer app would be.

Empowering the customer to modify energy usage through increased behaviour awareness by the Indesit-Enexis demand side energy management programme in Breda and Zwolle, showed evidence for changed customer behaviour patterns and a tendency for the market moving towards greater interoperability with other household appliances, again user has been demonstrated to be central.
Marco Romero Rodriguez, from Telefonica, discussed M2M technology, a new opportunity for the smart Home services, demonstrated how telcos through the new M2M paradigm have greater opportunities to develop the smart Home, what would be the new architecture elements which will support the Smart Home and finally a new business model introduced by M2M in the Smart Home.

Bert Verlinden from fifthplay, & Eric Duys from Electrabel together with Nuvonet have presented their multi-purpose platform for use by multiple partners, this proves that the industry has to work together and resolve the issues of interoperability. Thus another panel session discussed: What value do standards bring across the value chain and what more can they do to advance the smart home agenda? With the purpose to understand not only what advantages standards operators offer to product development but also how might product development and standards operators work more closely together.

Ethem Eldem, from Turkcell described how to build a commercial partnership in smart security management based on customer focus and trust. Marrying two respective market leaders on a customer care basis, using telco leverage to complement the Pronet business model and using telco customer engagement to incentivise sales of Pronet security units.
Vassilis Seferidis, from Samsung Electronics, UK presented the Smart Devices and their Interoperability in the Smart Home, which aims at developing an ecosystem of smart devices around the home capable of achieving interoperability between different connected devices and delivering and sharing premium content around the home and copyright issues while expanding the “smartness” to other devices.

REFIT visits the Smart Home conference

The Loughborough research team attended the Smart Homes, Smart Metering and Smart grid conference in Amsterdam last week. As a UK based energy researcher my interest in this field is broad but I was particularly focused on the Smart Metering stream. In the UK smart gas and electricity meters will be rolled-out to all homes by 2020. This is a mammoth task so I wanted to find out what industry (the utility companies which will be doing the rolling) think are the main challenges to the success of the smart meter roll-out and also what are the business opportunities which the new level of energy use data will provide.

Before I move on you might ask – what is a smart meter? Well, a smart meter, which will be installed in your home over the next eight years, is one which is enabled for two way communication. A traditional energy meter registers your consumption and is read by the consumer (you) or a meter reader from the energy supplier every three months. A quarterly bill is then produced which represents the energy used for the whole period. Often, however, this bill is estimated because the meter has not actually been read. A new smart meter will log energy use half an hour (in the UK the detailed specifications differ in other countries) and read automatically by the energy supplier via mobile communication. This will enable more regular and more accurate billing.

So what are the main challenges and opportunities which this roll out of over 50 million meters presents? The message was that on the whole the technical problems regarding the detailed specification of the smart meters have been solved or at least are in the control of the various technology developers involved. One challenge and one opportunity, however, were repeated by many of those presenting.

The main challenge was getting the costumer, the energy consumer, on board. There were questions about the acceptability of the customer to having energy suppliers knowing real time energy data. But what are the benefits to the customer (there are many benefits for the energy industry but these don’t matter to consumers)? Mainly, there is an opportunity for customers through being less detached from their energy use to save money. In the old billing model it was impossible to equate an action, say turning on the kettle, with an outcome, an increase in energy use which has a cost. In the new model a visualisation of real time energy use collected will be provided for every home and through engaging with this it will be possible for customers to better understand how to save energy. This suggests a research question which was not answered at the conference – does the potential to save energy through better information offset the perceived negative impacts of smart meters for consumers?

The main opportunity related to the unprecedented amount of energy use information which will be gathered by energy suppliers via smart meters. This potential business opportunity was discussed during many of the presentations I attended but the overwhelming message was ‘we still don’t know what to do with all of this data’. The REFIT project team are going to make some suggestions!