Independent 'internet of energy' devices v. traditional smart meters
The Connected Home Guy: Gavin Dietz
The introduction and Q&A below were first published by the organisers of Australian Utilities Week 2016, to be held in Sydney on November 29-30. They are reproduced below.
The Connected Home – insights from an Aussie player and is AMI helping or hindering?
The utility sector has been a strong believer in the Smart Meter strategy and AMI is now a big part of the utility digital transformation process. But not everyone believes that AMI is the answer. There are alternative strategies – the most well-known being IoT networks.
According to Gavin Dietz, Managing Director, Wattwatchers, many utilities face becoming redundant in an IoT operating environment, as new competitors such as telcos and internet companies start to poach their electrons.
To find out more, read the interview we conducted with Gavin.
Q: Gavin, you drove one of the world's earliest consumer data-backed home energy management trials in Australia over a decade ago. Why haven't we cracked the consumer-friendly 'energy smart home' yet?
I’m as surprised as anyone that we haven’t solved this. In my early days in the smart meter industry I absolutely believed that we’d do great things to empower consumers and reduce carbon pollution, and that Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) would be transformational for the electricity industry. It hasn’t turned out that way for a number of reasons. But back in the mid-2000s, in more optimistic times for AMI and the utilities sector, I led the first consumer trials of in-home energy displays in Australia. Under the banner of Bayard Capital, which was in the process of buying up metering companies around the world including Landis+Gyr, we tasked multinational R&D teams in Sydney and London to modify an electricity meter, GSM modem and in-home display that presented real-time energy and cost. This bundle was deployed in 200 consumer households in Queanbeyan (outside of Canberra). The trial included a custom time-of-use tariff structure that supported coloured lights for each tariff and real-time critical peak pricing for rapid energy reduction. It showed that with the right data and support, households could cut 20-30% of energy consumption with commensurate savings on their electricity bills. So why aren’t we doing that everywhere now? The sad truth is that old-style utilities make their money out of selling more electrons not less, and they like information asymmetry because having more data than consumers makes them more powerful.
Q: The energy industry wisdom is that the 'smart grid' will be achieved through Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI). Is that how you see it?
I guess I’m a bit like the cigarette company insider who’s stopped smoking and left the tobacco industry. The smoke haze around so-called smart meters and AMI has cleared for me. I’ve come to the conclusion that we’ll never see real, Uber-style disruption of the energy sector if we rely on AMI as conceived by ‘old energy’ utilities, traditional regulators and my former fraternity the mainstream meter manufacturers themselves. It’s true that in Australia in particular we’ve tended to see digital transformation of the electricity sector through the prism of AMI, but that’s not how the IT world works. AMI might claim to be ‘advanced’, but in contemporary IT terms its clunky and irrevocably outdated. Big, over-engineered meters that are bound up in the manifest constraints of the highly regulated electricity sector are never going to be the solutions ‘hub’ for the home.
Q: If not AMI, then what is the solution for the emerging market 'behind the meter'?
That’s how I come to be working with energy technology start-up Wattwatchers. When I built a new home a couple of years ago I went looking for a nimble contemporary metering technology that could give me accurate real-time data that I controlled not my utility. It turned out my local council had a program running with Wattwatchers and I finally got the kind of consumer-friendly I’d been looking for since the mid-2000s. One thing led to another and I’ve ended up running the company. There will be a range of other technologies I am sure, as the behind-the-meter markets evolves at disruptive speed, but what set the ultra-compact Wattwatchers solution apart for me was the built-in fast bi-directional communications that gave me the consumer real-time data and insights independent of any utility. Empowered with this information, I’ve made our household much more energy efficient, moved to a progressive retailer that supports me to reduce consumption, replanned time-of-use for major appliances to maximise the in-home-value of my 10kW solar PV system, and now I’m scoping the optimal battery storage solution.
Q: How is the rise of the 'Internet of Things' changing the equation?
IoT is the gamechanger for the uberisation of energy. The internet is the ultimate distributed but connected technology, which is where the grids of the future are headed. So the internet is a model for how we move from the traditional energy model of big centralised generation and major transmission infrastructure to millions of lightly connected sites that simultaneously generate, store and consume electricity. IoT will take us to a future where all of the ‘things’ in this new energy landscape will be communicating and controllable in real-time with incredibly low transactional costs. That’s a long way from the original AMI concept of a grid-wide network of smart meters with their own broadband network still controlled by utilities and all sitting inside the regulated market. IoT puts the outdated billing meter-centric notion out of its misery for good. Many utilities themselves face becoming redundant in an IoT operating environment, as new competitors such as telcos and internet companies start to poach their electrons.
Q: Can intelligent home energy management, home automation and the connected home be coordinated to work together?
Yes they can. Personally I think this will happen in a very disaggregated and technologically piecemeal way using diverse off-the-shelf kit that you will buy at chain stores like Bunnings or Harvey Norman. A Belkin WeMo here, a Philips Hue there, and easy-to-use cloud-based rules engines like If This Then That (IFTTT) to coordinate across the different technologies. That’s how I’m doing it in my own home, and I think that’s how the majority of people will end up rather than using much more expensive proprietary systems. Devices like Wattwatchers also will have a key role to play because real-time accurate energy flow data and independent communications will be a vital ingredient for the connected and coordinated solutions of the future.
Gavin will be speaking at Australian Utility Week 2016 at the Startup Zone on Day 1 (29 Nov), 13.00hr on ‘Providing real time data to consumers to reduce energy consumption’ at the Seminar Theatre on the expo floor.