How Technology Advancements in Smart Metering Can Enable Broader Socio-economic Changes
Let's be a little more specific. One of the offshoots of Smart Metering is Home Area Network and automation. The obvious purpose of implementing HAN would be to educate customers about their usage patterns and enable them to make informed decisions to save energy and their electric bill, while indirectly contributing to help reduce peak demand and thereby reducing the need of new generation plants and reduction of greenhouse emissions. However, HAN can be leveraged to achieve a lot more than this fundamental goal.
In talking to one of our utility customers, we came across a very interesting topic. Electricity can be used for a variety of purposes. A common person might be using electricity to keep the basic lights and fans on. At the same time, someone might be enjoying living with all sorts of modern gadgets and using electricity to have 'great fun'. This sounds simple but the differentiation is remarkable, and, needs to be thought thru very carefully. Why would someone pay almost the same rate to make basic amenities of life available while many others would be utilizing the same resource for enjoying the feats of modern science and technological advancements?
It is time that regulators and utilities alike thought over on how to address this 'discrimination' and HAN would turn out to be the obvious tool to address this. Using a HAN enabled Smart metering infrastructure, Utilities should be able to measure the energy consumed by each major device within a household and track the consumption. This should provide a means to charge different tariffs for different devices. For example, a KwH consumed by a light bulb can be charged at 3 cents, whereas the same consumed by a Playstation ® can be charged at 20 cents. The thought is essentially to take time of day based tariffs to the next level, where the tariff is no longer a function of only the time of the day, but, also of the devices that actually run on the electricity. This is what "Type of use Billing - TyOU!" will be all about!
Imagine the consequences of being a pioneer to conduct a HAN Pilot with this objective. A utility can bring in a dramatic socio-economic change by reducing the burden on low income or mid income families, whereas recover the balance from the ones who can afford to live a lavish lifestyle.
Opponents may argue that basic tiered rate structure already addresses this challenge, which is definitely true to a certain extent. However, the suggestion that is being made here is to utilize modern technology advancements to further address this cause.
From a technology implementation standpoint, the backbone to this process, once adopted, has to be a combo of a HAN server, Smart metering system and an intelligent decision making system. The schematic system has been depicted in the following figure:
The core systems as shown in this diagram are obvious components of the Smart Metering/HAN infrastructure. The communication network has not been shown. The new layer to be introduced will be the 'Data Integration' layer, which will essentially act as the central intelligent processor for the information and data gathered and processed. The billing and CIS systems will need to be updated to compute bills and reflect information on the bill in accordance with the new processes and rules. Information as relevant can also be presented to the customer thru' a web portal or thru' awareness sessions.
Of course, there will be challenges to this proposed infrastructure that needs to be planned properly and implemented; these would include cost of implementation, ownership and security considerations, authenticity of the data being generated from the HAN etc.
It would be interesting to see the changes in customer behavior that can be brought in by adopting the outlined approach. While obviously, introduction of this kind of a process might face initial resistance from different consumer interest groups, the change will definitely benefit the society at large in the long run, and encourage reduction of demand and consumption in general.
With technology advancements in HAN, Utilities can implement processes and systems to help Low income groups substantially, and, also encourage savings by the ones who probably end up spending 'too much' on energy consumption. Smart Metering and HAN are already being deployed to achieve substantial benefits to engage consumers, increase their awareness about Energy consumption and helping them make informed decisions about the electricity usage. Adoption of the '"Type of use Billing - TyOU!" process will be a big step in achieving newer benefits from a HAN Infrastructure.