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'Smart consumer' solutions are needed for successful smart energy investments
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'Smart consumer' solutions are needed for successful smart energy investments

Posted by Jeremy CowanJuly 3, 2012

Within the M2M marketplace there is focus in a number of vertical markets, but one of the most talked about is the energy market, driven by the implementation of smart grids and smart cities. Nearly everyone in the world agrees that saving energy, protecting the environment and improving the sustainability of our life style is important.

A good example of the move towards energy efficiency, as Gwenn Larsson (pictured), CMO, Telenor Connexion writes, is the initiative to install smart meters at everyone’s home in Europe. Each country in Europe has their own time-plan, or roll-out schedule – but the general agreement among governments and industry representatives is that we need to do it! Like many ‘sustainability’ issues, however, two simple concerns always arise from consumers. The first being, “how much effect can I really have as an individual?” and the second, “what do I gain personally (or monetarily) from participating in the effort?”

One advantage of having a smart meter at every home is for consumers to get real-time information about their energy consumption, but the main objective of this mass project is to get consumers to USE energy more efficiently. And most consumers will only do this if they see some personal benefit. Maybe it’s a bit crass to say so, but it’s probably true.

If we focus on the second concern of consumers, “what do I gain monetarily?”, many forums try to estimate the cost savings to consumers of using smart metering techniques facilitated by smart grids, but how much saving could the average consumer really expect? This subject is always debated, but rarely is the amount of savings going to be that inspirational to the average consumer. Would you change your own behaviour for a savings of €2 per month? Probably not. How about €20, though? Maybe…

What is more likely is that energy companies, the heating and cooling industry and household appliance manufacturers will work together to wean or force customers away from using energy resources during peak loading times when it’s not necessary; meaning, that the consumer unconsciously uses energy during low peak hours. So, even though one might want to turn a dishwasher on at 6.00pm right after dinner, the dishwasher won’t actually turn on until the smart meter tells it to do so at 2.00am when the lowest cost energy is available. Or how about using a thermometer sensor on the outside of a home to communicate with the smart meter about temperature change, and the smart meter automatically adjusting heat or air conditioning settings to accommodate the new outside temperature. This smart energy process therefore becomes an interaction between the smart meter and the household appliance that forces a behavioural and energy usage change – without any effort from the consumer!

In order for this type of behavioural influence to occur, it requires that the energy companies co-operate closely with appliance and heating/cooling companies to ensure that consumer goods are being designed today, for delivery tomorrow, with energy efficiency sensors. Companies like Siemens, Bosch, Miéle, Electrolux — the list is endles — could work together to create a standard for sensor interaction with smart meters and grids. It’s important also that these companies work with communications providers to design in the best technologies possible for efficiency and longer term delivery of services. Existing technologies like ower line communications (PLC) for smart meter communication to smart grids offer a low cost and time-proven technique for transmitting data.

Costs more than it saves

The problem is that this technology is not ‘future proof’ for the type of data transfer needed considering that the breadth of data will grow in a smart metering scenario. Trading off a ‘cheap’ solution for a ‘future-proof’ solution will only cost consumers more in the long run than it will save in the short run.

The smart grid / smart metering industry is beginning to understand the benefits of using globally standardised wireless networks to deliver data to and from homes or businesses and the smart grid. The bandwidth available to deliver the services is several times more than that of PLC, and in most countries we find ubiquitous coverage.

In any large scale roll-out it’s important to build on standardised communications technologies! Today’s modern mobile networks will allow any utility to access the meters using IP standards addressing and communication protocols. If they want to attract the co-operation of household appliance manufacturers, widely used public standards are mandatory to ensure global adaptation. Public network wireless technologies coupled with sensor technologies such as ZigBee and other similar short range standards, make the perfect combination for launching smart metering services that can make a true impact.

Communications companies like Telenor Connexion are working with both sides of the industry (i.e. energy companies and OEMs) to promote cooperation for ‘smart consumer’ solutions. Because we can talk about energy savings for years with the industry specialists, but in the end we have to find ways that influence the consumer in order to ensure large scale benefit from the investments being made.

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Jeremy Cowan

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