The power system of the future will integrate major changes in functionality and advances in communications, computing, and electrical devices to evolve into an intelligent infrastructure that integrates components from generation to end use devices. The interface between the electrical network and consumers is a particularly important part of this infrastructure.

There is tremendous potential to improve energy efficiency, achieve better control of system demand, and increase reliability of the supply system by integrating equipment and controls at the consumer level with the overall operation of the electrical network. The objective of the Consumer Portal project in the Intelligrid Consortium [1,2] is to develop the specifications for this interface and co-ordinate with industry standards organisations to implementate these standards. The concept of the consumer portal is shown in Figure 1.

Industry developments and previous work have demonstrated the need for a consumer portal that provides a communications gateway between energy providers and consumers for energy service functions. Many markets are aggressively promoting the application of advanced metering for the implementation of demand response functions (e.g. California, Ontario). This is one important aspect of the consumer portal. However, the benefits of a consumer portal for more efficient and reliable operation of the supply system can be equally important, and specifications for the consumer interface should not ignore the requirements of these important functions. This article describes some of the important applications of a consumer portal and how these applications influence the overall requirements.

Consumer portal concept

WHAT IS A CONSUMER PORTAL?

One formal definition of a consumer portal is “a combination of hardware and software that enables two-way communication between energy service organisations and equipment within the consumers’ premises.” At a technical level, a portal provides a physical and logical link between wide area networks and consumers’ in-facility equipment or networks. It may be a ‘router’ that simply forwards messages, or a ‘gateway’ that translates between technologies. A portal can be thought of as a ‘virtual device’: a set of applications and interfaces that may be located within a meter, a thermostat, a PC, a set-top box, a stand-alone device, or distributed among devices or appliances at a customer site.

The actual physical implementation of the consumer portal functionality is not as critical as standardised definitions for the functions and their information, communication and interface requirements. With appropriate documentation of the requirements for the consumer portal functions, these functions can be implemented in a wide variety of actual devices. Interoperability of these devices will allow the full benefits of the consumer portal to be realised.

CONSUMER PORTAL APPLICATIONS

Examples of portal applications include automatic meter reading (AMR), demand response, real time pricing, theft detection, remote disconnect, energy management, DER interface and control, and outage detection. Applications to enable participation of consumers in the overall energy market (e.g. real-time pricing, demand response) are receiving considerable attention, especially as part of advanced metering initiatives [3,4]. New applications for the consumer portal are discussed here in two broad categories – customer management and advanced distribution operations. Implementation of advanced metering systems and the associated communications infrastructures should take into account the requirements for these applications.

Customer Management
The consumer portal will allow automated implementation of many customer management functions (see Figure 3). Using the portal, an energy service provider or a utility could:

  • Detect theft of energy.
  • Detect tampering with equipment at customer premises.
  • Remotely connect, disconnect, and configure customer services.
  • Limit maximum customer load in response to billing irregularities.
  • Offer advanced energy service functions to maximise customer efficiency and equipment performance.

Advanced Distribution Operations
The consumer portal has important applications that can benefit electric utility operations. Distribution system operations can benefit from continuous information describing the system (voltages, currents, loads) and disturbance conditions (outage detection, restoration notification, response of customer equipment to disturbances). Some important applications for improving operations include:

  • Detect and isolate network outages more quickly through automatic notification of outages and integration with outage management systems.
  • Shed load with finer control in emergency situations.
  • Redistribute load by using demand response customers as a ‘fast reserve’.
  • Monitor and optimise power quality more accurately, based on data from the customer.
  • Monitor and control voltage and VARs with finer control using customer data, and possibly by controlling them at the customer site.
  • Monitor and control distributed generation at the customer site.
  • Integrate customer load information with distribution state estimation and system performance optimisation functions.

Customer Management funcitons

FEEDBACK FROM INTELLIGRID PARTNERS

During the first quarter of 2005, a survey of Intelligrid partners was performed to identify priorities for the consumer portal applications (Figure 4). These priorities are being used to help identify appropriate use cases for development of the application requirements.

LESSONS LEARNED FROM PAST IMPLEMENTATIONS OF CONSUMER PORTAL FUNCTIONS

Many utilities have implemented portions of the consumer portal functionality for specific customer services or advanced metering functions. Some of them have been quite successful for their specific objectives – for example, many AMR systems in place around the world. However, many offerings related to customer services have not been successful in establishing enough of a market penetration to justify the investments required. These previous implementations demonstrate that the technology exists – there are no breakthroughs required to start realising the benefits of consumer portal functionality. The main challenge is finding the best way to distribute the costs and the benefits of the implementation between the different players.

The IntelliGrid Consortium has performed an analysis of several attempts at deploying consumer portals over the past two decades. The following lessons can be learned:

  • Make it simple. Portal services must be implemented in a way that requires very little participation by consumers unless they choose to participate.
  • Standardise. Most portal attempts failed because they used proprietary technologies or attempted to lock consumers in to a particular vendor. The necessary economies of scale will only occur when multiple vendors can address a market that is statewide or nationwide in scope. This will only happen through use of standard, open technologies.
  • Share the infrastructure. The energy industry has not made effective use of the communications infra- structures being deployed by other industries. Although almost all utility portal commercialisation efforts have failed, there are dozens of successful cases of portal-like services being offered to consumers by other means, including cable, telephony, wireless internet and security monitoring services.
  • Build an architecture. Too often, organisations have created ‘islands of automation’ in the power industry, without considering their impact on the rest of the grid. Any consumer portal implementation must be integrated with the entire utility communications system.
  • Don’t strand assets. The list of portal functions described here is likely to be small compared to the potential future uses. Therefore, consumer portals must be easy and inexpensive to upgrade so that utilities and other organisations can add new applications as they arise.
  • Share the benefits. The industry must discover business cases and organisational structures that permit the societal benefits from deploying portals to be shared.

One likely way to learn from these lessons is through the participation of regulatory agencies. If all participants in the market are regulated so that the costs of consumer portal applications are shared between different participants who will benefit from the applications, then deployment will be much easier to cost-justify.

MINIMUM REQUIREMENTS FOR INTEROPERABILITY

Regardless of how they are implemented, all consumer portals need to have some common characteristics in order to achieve interoperability and economies of scale. These are characteristics of the consumer portal that will be defined in the Intelligrid project:

  • A common minimum data model. Each consumer portal application has a basic set of information sharing requirements that can be standardised for clients that need to interface with it on either the utility side or the consumer side. Vendors would be encouraged to add to this minimum in order to promote innovation and value-added features.
  • A common security scheme to provide a united front in protecting data from attackers, and to guarantee privacy among the various users of the portal.
  • A common upgrade mechanism so that utilities can download new tariffs, configuration, and applications electronically, to prevent portals from becoming stranded assets.
  • A common management method so devices from a variety of vendors can all be monitored, diagnosed, and controlled in a common manner.

Using a consumer portal

Results of Intelligrid partners survey - consumer portal

The Intelligrid Consortium is supporting development of consumer portal technologies through standards development, information sharing between the industry and suppliers, and support of field trials to demonstrate the advantages of important technologies. The consumer portal builds on the overall Intelligrid Architecture [1] that is also being co-ordinated with existing and future standards. Figure 5 illustrates the general flow of development and the role of standards in supporting large-scale implementation of consumer portal technologies.

EXAMPLE UTILITY APPLICATION: THE EDF IP METER

EdF has implemented many consumer portal functions on a wide scale. These include automated meter reading, meter aggregation and flexible configuration, meter reading for multiple utilities (gas, water), and time-of-use rates with automatic control of loads in conjunction with rates. EdF installs about 1 million electronic meters per year with communication and control capability to support these functions. The utility is working with the Intelligrid Consortium to develop the specifications for the next generation advanced metering concepts in conjunction with the consumer portal specifications development. This next generation of meters at EdF (referred to as the IP Meter) will apply to both commercial and residential customers. Major aspects of the work include specifications of an IP stack and the establishing data format and security requirements.

Flow diagram - consumer portal

Figure 5: Intelligrid consumer portal project flow diagram illustrating the development of information models for important consumer portal applications. (Note that the tasks above the dotted line are project efforts that have been completed by the Intelligrid Consortium.)

EdF metering architecture strategy and current R&D work use the foundation of the IntelliGrid architecture results and guidelines. EdF believes that the development of common information models (object models) for information exchange is needed for the wide-scale deployment of consumer portal functions, especially demand response based on real-time pricing. EdF R&D projects in the areas of metering architectures and new designs of meters will be combined with IntelliGrid results and validated in prototype implementations, in preparation for deployment in the EdF group of utilities.

The EdF effort is an example of the Intelligrid Consortium focus on developing international guidelines and standards for technology that will facilitate the intelligent power system of the future. The consumer portal team is gathering the required diverse input and working on the co-ordination with demonstrations to assure that technology development can be widely applied, and that it is co-ordinated with international standards.

REFERENCES

1. IntelliGrid consortium (2004, Sept). IntelliGrid Architecture final reports.
2. IntelliGrid consortium (2003, Dec). Energy Service Portal Development.
3. IntelliGrid consortium (2004, March). Consumer Portal Business Case.
4. M. McGranaghan, A. Didierjean, R. Russ, "The business case for a consumer portal to implement flexible pricing, consumer services, and demand response programs," CIRED 2005, Turin, Italy, June 4-9, 2005.