Today's rapidly changing energy marketplace is providing the electricity industry and its stakeholders with new opportunities, challenges and risks. As the market continues to evolve, the key to maintaining a competitive advantage is the development and implementation of more nimble data tools – especially as they relate to customer service innovation.
Now more than ever, advanced technologies related to metering, energy management, and billing are poised to enable the energy industry to leverage future opportunities and minimise risks. The on-going restructuring of the energy market has created a growing need for metering standards and communications protocols essential to making the disaggregated market structure work. At the same time, these technologies provide a unique opportunity to gain market efficiencies and to develop competitive customer service offerings.
METERING STANDARDS AND COMMUNICATION PROTOCOLS
The restructured energy market has heightened the need for data exchange between market participants. The complexity of the US market is well documented. Each state, restructured or not, employs different rules for meter data, and data standards may also differ by company within a given state. While open standards are used to enable maximum flexibility, practical problems arising from different communications protocols used by varying vendor devices often remain. A quality assurance approach to minimizing these interoperability risks can save significant time and money in the implementation of metering/data exchange systems. Specifically, this is an approach that encompasses:
- Selection of the most cost-effective communication standard and vendor products.
- Quality assurance procedures to ensure that the system meets business requirements and interoperability requirements prior to on-site implementation.
- Use of advanced testing tools for rapid development and problem solving.
- Development and implementation of training.
Several standards for message formatting have already been introduced worldwide. The trend is towards XML. ETSO (the European Transmission System Operators association) has introduced an XML-based message set for scheduling purposes.
Meter standards and communications protocols aside, advanced automation, metering and billing systems have opened up several new avenues for development of innovative customer services.
Advanced Building Automation Programmes – Many new energy savings benefits are available to building owners through use of the newest developments from the controls industry. Enhanced building automation can increase the capability of existing energy or building management systems. These technologies also enable the integrated management and control of multi-site businesses with multiple meters.
Energy Information and Analysis – Many utilities are already taking advantage of the opportunity to provide their customers with information and tools to manage their energy use more efficiently. The use of interval metered data combined with front-end tools to enable the input of energy use characteristics for each device provides a wealth of data to enable more informed energy decisions.
Other Potential Uses of Standardised Metered Data – In a restructured market, improved customer service is imperative. For large users, who often purchase power from alternative suppliers, the following tools could provide great value in contracting for energy:
- On-line quotation engines for complex contracts.
- Simulation of multi-supplier options using usage data and transparent methods for price calculations.
- Making the algorithms of price calculation publicly available in order to enable electronic contracts.
- Bill audits using usage data to check if bills are correct.
Recent advances in building automation, metering, and CIS technology do present some interoperability and standardisation risks, but they are risks that can be managed by the prudent use of a quality assurance approach to implementing metering and related systems. Meanwhile, the potential benefits that these advanced technologies provide to offer more innovative services to energy consumers and to improve demand response initiatives are just beginning to be realised.