Without relevant and easy-to-understand data, energy consumers are in the dark about their energy consumption and have no way of being proactive when it comes to reducing their energy bill as well as their environmental footprint.
Thanks to a higher digital and environmental awareness, the new energy customer expects this valuable data to be made available to them so that they can manage their energy usage more effectively. This opens the market to innovation and new entrants.
Unlocking innovation in energy efficiency
We wrote recently about the development of the Energy2Consumer (E2C) platform, developed by to meet the growing demand in the residential sector for energy efficiency information in Belgium. [Energy Efficiency To Connect Utilities And Customers] In partnership with Belgian IT service provider Ordina, the researchers from EnergyVille, the country’s joint energy research organization, will commercialize the platform with utilities for their customers.
Basically, E2C will be an ‘advisor’ where home owners and renters can insert some data and be given some suggested actions they can take to improve energy efficiency. For instance, the platform could suggest replacing an appliance or investing in solar PV, and will provide estimated energy cost reductions for those investments. The intention is to take the platform Europe-wide, adapting the language and other elements such as legislation and incentives to the particular country.
Silicon Valley startup Enervee has also recognised the potential in empowering the energy customer. [Appliance Energy Efficiency Platform To Boost Customer Engagement] Co-founders Matthias Kurwig and Don Epperson have developed a platform that enables consumers to compare the costs of purchasing and running any particular electrical device or appliance and to find out what if any rebates are applicable and where they can purchase the item. The information is constantly updated.
As devices and appliances vary across markets, the data processing needs to be set up for each market, with the US market the most complete so far. Data feeds also are in place for products in Sweden, Australia and South Africa, as a result of government contracts for data on market activity and to support energy efficiency policy making. A clear endorsement of the concept is a US$3.7 million receipt of venture funding from Obvious Ventures in May, with which Enervee plans to grow and expand the platform.
Another company, Metry has recognised the potential of making data more accessible to energy consumers and has created innovative tools, products and services to make access to data and energy saving even easier for all energy sector roleplayers and consumers. Metry collects data from hundreds of utilities’ smart metering systems, as well as older off-line meters. By using Metry’s online tools, energy consumers can access their energy consumption data on an hourly basis and learn how to save energy using various apps. In fact, the platform can also be used by energy companies and service developers, which together create an ecosystem for making society more energy efficient.
Described as a “community for energy“, Metry automatically collects energy statistics and matches it against the services and products that help to lower energy usage.
Significant opportunity for utilities
Often, these innovative platforms create an opportunity for utilities to offer their customers value-added services. This is especially important for utilities that are wanting to prosper in the energy system of the future. These services could be real market differentiators for them in a sector that is becoming increasingly competitive.
For instance, Metry offers consumers mobile and web apps free of charge. This “app store for energy services“ can be very useful for utilities as they don’t need to develop these from scratch, saving them time and money.
Metry apps for mobile are open source so utilities can create branded versions or they are able to add specific features that may be aimed at increasing loyalty, attracting new customers and boosting revenue. The Metry Mobile app can also help utilities access consumption data of potential customers so that customers get the best (and most appropriate contract) based on individual consumption tracking.
The Metry Market Place enables utilities to offer a variety of energy visualization tools. Customers can select from mobile apps, advanced analytic tools and hands-on services offered by independent service providers. For every app in the Market Place utilities can get a kick-back as compensation for collecting the energy data used in the app which could be used towards smart metering rollouts effectively.
A great example of how utilities can embrace innovation in data analytics is the success that E.ON UK is enjoying due to Opower’s web based solution which provides personalised information about energy consumption. The solution provides neighbourhood comparisons and personalized tips on how to control energy usage. [Building Digital Trust Will Open Doors for Utilities.] Through this solution, the utility has improved its customer relationship tenfold.
It is also to keep solutions simple in order to keep customers engaged. Amaury Lamarche, Programme Director Customer Engagement, ENGIE, points out that simplicity is the best policy. He explains that energy comes across as a highly complex product/service so it is important to simplify it and make it user friendly for customers.
Open data could unlock even bigger energy savings
In a Forbes article, Frank and Matt Gee of Effortless Energy advocate an open-energy-data warehouse that would collect anonymized forms of existing data from various sources and make the data available for research, government, and industry. Mr Gee says there needs to be an entity that organizes all this information into a standard format.
To realise even bigger energy savings, the market needs detailed housing characteristics, as well as low-level aggregations of energy use or energy intensity—anonymized but at the block level, potentially. It needs to know anonymized project performance: what actually happens during the project, explains Mr Gee.
Currently this type of data is held independently—by utilities, contractors, cities, and financiers. If the data is opened and combined, businesses could reliably finance efficiency improvements, pay for the improvements with the savings, and in the process, reduce carbon emissions, say Gee and Frank.
“Right now pretty much everyone out there has their hands tied behind their back, either because they have access only to small data sets, or they only have their own data, or they only have one piece of the puzzle,” Mr Frank explains. “The more data you release and the more it’s in an open format and the more people you release it to, the more innovation you’re going to have.”
While it is important for role players to share data, the effort will need support from regulators and policy makers.