Innovation beyond the smart meter - Part II

Grant Smith | Jan 27, 2010

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I received a number of follow-up questions to last week's article about the progress of home automation and demand response for investor-owned utilities (IOUs). The questions were primarily related to what research Sierra Energy Group, a division of Energy Central, has related to home automation and demand response for municipals and cooperatives and how that might compare with IOUs. This article discusses some of those findings.

Like their investor-owned counterparts, municipal utilities were asked: is your utility considering any home automation/demand response projects? The responses were a little surprising in that no respondents indicated that they were already completed, only 6 percent indicated that they were underway, 30 percent responded that they were in the early planning stages, 35 percent indicated that home automation/demand response was planned for one to three years out, and 29 percent indicated no short- or long-term plans.

In responding to the same question, the survey of cooperative utilities indicated that no respondents had already completed their projects, 40 percent indicated that home automation/demand response was underway, another 40 percent indicated that it was in the early planning stages, no respondents indicated that it was planned for one to three years out, and 20 percent indicated no short- or long-term plans.

For comparison purposes, I have prepared the following table summarizing responses to the question: is your utility considering any home automation/demand response projects?

Response                                       IOUs        Municipals    Cooperatives
Already completed                              5%            0%                  0%
Underway                                         46%            6%                40%
In the early planning stages               16%          30%                40%
Planned for one to three years out      27%          35%                  0%
No short- or long-term plans                6%          29%                 20%  

It appears that, among respondents, IOUs are further along in their home automation/demand response solutions than municipals and cooperatives. Similarly, cooperatives seem to be further along than municipal utilities. At first glance, the data tends to invite speculation about profit motive and how that may cause an IOU to be more responsive to newer technologies and evolving customer needs. Such speculation, though, would be beyond the intents and purposes of the survey. To understand the issue of how profit or shareholder return influences what a utility may or may not do, the survey would have to ask questions about planning processes, project prioritization methodologies and selection criteria weighting, to name but a few.

Overall, though, it is important to note that none of the utility types have made the kind of progress that resembles the level of consumer empowerment outlined in the visions of a smart grid/intelligent utility that have been promulgated by various regulators and other interested parties. We still have a long way to go and it is going to be an exciting journey.

I enjoy discussing industry issues with you. Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section, or reach me directly at bthielbar@energycentral.com

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