Smart meters have been spoken about for years, and today government legislation continues to drive their rollout. According to Northeast Group, 80 per cent of households in 12 Western European countries will have smart meters by 2020, mostly driven by EU requirements. Meanwhile in the UK, energy suppliers have until 2023 to roll out meters to all of their customers, or risk potential fines of up to 10 per cent of their global revenue.
Many consider the smart grid to be an early incarnation of the Internet of Things (IoT), promising huge improvements in terms of curbing consumption and enhancing the customer experience. But more needs to be done in order to fully reap the benefits of smart meters. Chief amongst these is the ability to uncover and analyse the wealth of data gathered from the meters themselves. Smart grids are also instrumental in helping transform utilities business from wires to platforms to meet customers’ expectations and bring market parties efficiently together.
Specifically, smart meters enable a flow of information between customers and energy providers, providing the latter with an ever-growing amount of data about when, where, and how energy is being used. Having the processes and technologies in place to reliably and securely collect, store and analyse this data will be critical to delivering on the promise of smart metering for customers.
These include the ability for utilities to better visualise how voltage is being distributed throughout their networks, helping them to more proactively identify power outages and take measures to prevent them where possible. In addition, utilities now send outage notifications to customers via text or email to keep them informed on the progress of restoration service, which saves them the effort of having to call their provider until the lights come back on.
IoT data also enables utilities to remotely troubleshoot connectivity problems, which reduces the need to send employees to a customer site each time an issue arises. This could potentially save them millions in operational costs. For example, Australian utility United Energy managed to halve its unnecessary truck visits in just two years by taking an analytics-based approach to troubleshooting.
European energy utilities have also made strides in the way they apply data to customer service. Norwegian energy supplier, Agder Energi AS, offers customers time-based pricing, so they are incentivised to shift their energy usage to off-peak times. Agder Energi AS also allows customers to manage their accounts via web-based self-service, and sends them early warnings when their bill is projected to be higher than usual. This timely data lets customers adjust their energy usage for the remainder of their billing cycle.
Some utilities have also given their customers access to budgeting features to help them set spending goals, and provide them with weekly updates on how they are performing against these. Highly personalised services empower customers to consume on their own terms, and in turn help utilities boost loyalty and retention.
Smart meters clearly have the potential to revolutionise the way energy is managed and enhance the relationship between customers and utility providers, but we are only just scratching the surface. In order to fully realise the opportunities presented by the smart grid, many utilities will need to adjust their business models and technology systems to adjust to evolving customer demands.
In many cases, this will involve a transition to modern analytics technologies, network management systems, and the adoption of cloud-based IT systems that can accommodate the growing volume of grid data. As an early form of the IoT in action, smart grids support a more active consumer and set a precedent for how businesses use data in the future. With the smart meter roll-out now picking up steam in the UK, the next few years will set the tone for this shift.
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