A smart-meter, smart enough to listen to

Recently I blogged "What would a smart-ER meter say?" - concluding;
So if we were to: 
  1. list smart-meter capabilities against a list of legitimate audiences,
  2. gag them ruthlessly when they are not interesting or not welcome,  
  3. apply expertise where needed,  
  4. inform those who have a need to know and who have an ability to act,
  5. in a language they understand,
  6. when they want to hear it !
- wouldn't that be nice ? !
and that's my subject for today. However, while I fully intend to comment, perhaps our start point would be the answer to a "smart -er meter" question:

"What do I want from my smart meter ?"

and obviously this depends on who you are - i.e. the audience

Equally it depends on the options - ie "What can a smart meter do ?" 

But I am assuming that we all have an idea of these points (even though definitions of smart meters change around the world and amongst different user groups). So for the purpose of this post I will adopt a very broad definition - 

Broad Smart-Meter Definition: 
"An ability to gather relatively high resolution energy data, process and make results accessible via some means, while it is of relevance to some interested party"
You will notice that this definition includes pretty much any remote Automatic Meter Reading functionality (and does not require an in-property display device !!!)

So back to the post - it's worth considering three aspects of any message, the audience, the intent and how the message is to be "consumed". 

(smart-meters need to convey something useful to someone who cares or they are simply destined to be expensive paper-weights)

A very expensive paper weight.
unnecessarily heavy IMHO - but then
I'm interested in the functionality - not the show
Getting these straightened up allows us to think about designing the communication.

So to the audience - perhaps we need to first address "non-core users"

Smart meter advocate ? - Probably not so much !
Various factions in the world of smart-meter paranoia, (some literally in the tin-foil hat brigade), posit outrageous theories about smart meter technologies. 

Much as I will fight for their right to be utterly bonkers to my last breathe, I also won't spend too long dwelling on how best to get my message to them.  

Classify these as:  "long-tail late-adopters" for the technology I believe in.

Politely put - "They can't be allowed to matter !"

The real intent behind Smart-Meters

If we put aside the notion that smart-meters are guidance beacons for aliens, or similar, and go mainstream, then we see three fundamental benefits that are derivable from a data history of energy consumption, and these are sufficient to define our audiences.

1) Accounting for value transfer

Whether a meter reports a fiscal transaction or not, energy has moved. If the energy is of value to the supplier, or to the recipient (not always the case) then we can think of this as an accounting transaction. A financial credit and an equal and opposite debit.

This leads us to use cases that include:
- bill verification (I've said this before, but how many industries can you think of where you have to routinely pay to check billing ? !!!)
- tariff analysis (in competitive markets, standardize data formats would allow utilities to bid competitively and automatically for supply contracts through a clearing market - surely this would be more efficient than giving clients the buying analysis responsibility)  
- purchasing support (typically larger users)
- cost attribution (particularly sub-metering)
- financial planning (generally this is very naive)

These "intents" can be associated with "audiences" in accounting and purchasing functions. Data can be historic and patterns of interest are relatively trivial (base load, peak use and so on), and are often determined by the market conditions offered by utility suppliers and buying clubs.

Although higher resolution meter-readings are changing demand pricing which makes for more efficient markets and provides incentives for demand control, there is little new here - people have always had to pay for products they consume.

2) Energy Efficiency & Improving Effectiveness

This is where the smart-meter needs to become smart !
This will be the specific subject of my next post and is the greatest core-value of Smart-metering and AMR in my view (do signup on the RSS feed if you want to catch it when it comes).

Just as a smart meter needs to be timely, concise and on point - I will try to do the same :)

3) Enabling Peer Co-operation Between Users 

This is where controls need to become smart and it closes the smart-meter feedback loop!

There is huge scope to do this using within single buildings or sites (eg scheduling loads so the aggregate is spread to avoid expensive low efficiency demand peaks) or in the case of boilers ensuring loads synchronise so that a firing boiler works hard and serves most purpose.  

To do this involves exposing not only demand signals (I need heat / I don't need heat) but also forecast loads (From  an AHU perhaps - "I am OK for heat because can recirculate until outside temperature drops below X") .  This level of sophistication implies a market for heat (or chilling) in a  building - and since heat and chill are supplied in various quantity to various functions at various cost - a market solution is needed (both within the single site and at a smart grid level)

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