Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Utilities will not "give" Google energy data

Last week I had dinner with a few colleagues and Austin Energy's CIO Andres Carvallo who was a keynote speaker for the Park's Associates Connections 2009 conference. Carvallo is an energetic, entertaining guy with a diverse background and is clearly a smart guy (follow him on Twitter, ciomaster). I decided to test my hypothesis that utilities would not give Google their energy usage data for PowerMeter. Austin Energy is one of the leaders in the US in implementing Smart Energy (Grid, Meters, Demand Response, etc.)and so I was very interested to hear Carvallo's perspective. Sure enough and even with a bit of disgust, he said there is no way he is giving his energy data to Google. "Why would I?" he asked. Carvallo strikes me as a smart business guy so his question makes a lot of sense. Why would any business give away their consumer data? Would Visa give away aggregated purchase data? Or for that matter, does Google give away search data? Nope and neither will the smart energy companies.

Energy companies must get ahead of this however, simply stonewalling is not sustainable. A new business model that creates consumer value and replaces lost energy profits is required.


duckygator said...

I tend to disagree. I don't think that data is necessarily the property of the utility company. A homeowner could today read their meter and write down their consumption at whatever interval they want, or develop a novel way to automatically do this like using a webcam or an amp clamp. It's their consumption data, what Google is trying to do is make it easier for them to view it and act on it.

There are several home energy management systems coming to market that do what Google PowerMeter is doing plus a great deal more. Traditional utility viewpoints will not stop projects like PowerMeter from succeeding.

Instead, the pace of adoption of these will be set by the availability of installed meters that have the capability to provide interval data. It will not be cost effective for utilities to rip out meters that are still working and still being depreciated on their books in favor of new meters that transmit both consumption and interval data, as well as have the infrastructure in place to store and query meter data every 15 minutes as opposed to the monthly or daily reads stored now for residential customers.

Andres Carvallo said...

Tony, we met at a small private dinner hosted by another utility.

Your conclusion on the blog entry title is not accurate, since per a press release, eight utilities already do so.

My answer to your question "will you give your customer data to Google" was "I cannot give my customer data to Google, why would I?"

What we didn't go into that explains my answer is that: Utilities are forbidden by law to share freely any customer data. Government and Customers need to authorize such exchange. The release process is complex and different state by state.

Your elaboration about the tone of my answer “sure enough and even with a bit of disgust” is not accurate at all. I was matter of fact and quick to my answer.

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Steve said...

I just attended the Google Powermeter partners webcast and learned that the utilities that sign up with Google will not automatically give away the customer's data. The utility will offer the customer the option to "opt-in" to the program and only then will the utility send information to Google's servers.

Tony Barra said...

Great comments and I really should have expanded my description of “giving away consumer data.” I did assume that this would never happen without the consumer indicating that it was ok to do so. But as a long time user of Quicken, I can tell you there is a huge gap between allowing customers to designate third parties to have access to their data and it actually working. I was describing a more proactive utility co-operation in facilitating the exchange.

Duckygator – I agree that the data will “belong” to the consumer, especially given the amount of federal funding that is going toward building the smart grid however, I think the point is that without a federal mandate or cooperation by the utility company the data will be hard to capture. I agree that a homeowner could enter the data but precious few will based on research I have seen. I think you are correct a more likely success story for PowerMeter and Hohm could be enabled by a bridge device that automates the capture of smart meter data.

Good point about the amount of data that is generated, Mr. Carvallo cited some large, scary numbers for storage. I think the solution there will be tiered data, e.g. 15 minute increments for the previous week, hourly for the month, etc. Every CIO has faced similar challenges and this can be overcome.

Andres Carvallo – Sorry, I stick by my conclusion the smart utility companies will not facilitate an easy, customer-directed exchange of their data and remove themselves from the interaction with the consumer. As I mentioned in the original post, a few utilities have sign-on with Google.

Also I may not have been clear enough in my question about working with Google PowerMeter to facilitate the exchange of customer data and our recollections differ, although I have not seen any press releases that indicate Austin Energy is one of the providers with a Google agreement.

Great suggestion and although Austin, Texas, is a bit of an anomaly as far as community interests there are some interesting developments,

Steve – Thanks, yes same clarification and observation, option to authorize third party may prove challenging given the number of different utility systems.