Conflict on the ground - Electricity, Gas and the Balance of Power

Published: Tue 07 Oct 2014
A blog entry by James Ferguson

Contributed by:

James Ferguson
CEO
kWIQly Gmbh

James Ferguson's Blog

A different type of conflict

Utilitiy companies are no strangers to "conflict on the ground" when it comes to large scale geo-politics.  One needs hardly mention The Gulf, Nigeria, Ukraine and even historically Tobruk, or more surprisingly The Falklands to realise that a battle for scarce resources is nothing new. However, this is not the battle we are addressing here.

Our conflict occurs when mismatched intents between building services, powered by gas and electicity come into play.  Though each is small, unnoticed and imperceptible, they are nearly omnipresent eternal and their impact is huge.

Consider this: The IPCC and WCSBD together calculate that around 12% of global energy is wasted in buildings (29% of the 40% used). Obviously this represents the normal or "businesss as usual".

A simply corollary is that "exception based reporting" (the basis of 99% of commercial aM&T software) is utterly useless in this context. If it is normal, it is unexceptional and so this 12% of global energy flies "beneath our radar" (as waste).

Throw away counsels of despair

There is no point simply observing that a situation is broken. It is; and let me briefly define the problem, but let us then examine what needs to be done (as it is relatively simple).

The battleground:

When analysing energy use, the need to understand the stated purpose of consumption is implicit. It would be a better defined world if it were explicit.

Energy managers "chalk-up" energy consumption to causal factors of consumption (the "drivers"). Typically most are overlooked, but common considerations include (occupancy - no point cooling an unoccupied building), the weather (how hot or cold is it), the target "comfort" conditions, and exceptional items like school holidays, heating outside occupancy for fabric protection.

To the extent that these drivers together fully explain variations in consumption, we can assume well-managed energy use.

But they do not ! - Granted most utilities provide data-viewing apps, that feed back pretty graphs of consumption, or benchmarked comparitives of performance within a class of building types

Existing Analytics tools are not fit-for-purpose:

While you as the provider of a utility (say electricity) cannot explain to your client how much of their energy is wholly wasted in negating the effects of their overuse of another utilities resources (say gas), using your best data scientists - I would argue the system is broken, because it appears neither client nor supplier knows the benefits of the facilities provided (despite knowing the quantity sold).

This is a strategically significant statement -

"Utility companies cannot in general quantify their core value-proposition to their clients"

 

The solution is relatively simply defined, and is available based on metering techniques and analytics alone.

Selling Holes not Drills

Going one step further for your clients is easy if you are armed with a few bits of data.

Imagine a pub where the landlord responds to complains of cold by turning the thermostat up, and the drinkers respond to heat by leaving the doors and windows open. Now drive through any city on the planet and see how many centrally serviced buildings have their doors and windows open.

"This problem is so common, that people laugh about it."

 

Now, suppose you are armed with outside temperature and gas consumption histories. It is not rocket-science to come up with an email that says -

"At this temperature last year you were using X kW but now you are using twice as much (turn the thermostat down and make sure doors and windows are closed) and comfort is still possible"

If you consider that weather is a legitimate driver of heating consumption, it is a small step to recognise that money spent on cooling (usually electrically driven) is always an illegitimate driver of heating consumption.

It's a simple argument, but until utilities (or their service representatives) provide both electricity and gas data for a building in a single analytical context (even at a fiscal meter level without sub-metering) they cannot possibly know how much of the utility is useful and how much is simply encouraging their clients to look elsewhere causing competitive:

 

"conflicts on the ground that serve no purpose!"