eMeter focuses on providing "back office" software integration products for utilities, based on the need for taking huge volumes of data from automated metering systems and turning out accurate bills. Cree's comments were particularly focused on the status of utility IT operations, and the impediment imposed by current utility regulation in the US.
Landis+Gyr of course makes meters, and now the systems that make up automated metering systems. Brent had a chance to describe projects completed in Europe (Italy and Spain installed automated metering systems mainly to address rampant energy theft), but also had comments about the utility regulatory environment in the US.
Here's a selection of observations:
- Utilities rely almost exclusively on "home grown" (developed in-house) IT systems, including software, according to Cree. These systems are not well-integrated, and do not have the capability of handling the mass of data that will come from automated or "smart" metering systems.
- Brent explained the data increase this way: utility meters are now read once a month, generating twelve data points annually. Hourly reads generate 8,760 data points, and quarter-hour reads obviously take that to over 35,000. Current utility IT systems - both hardware and software - simply can't handle that volume.
- Cree was pretty straight up with regards to regulation and the behavior it drives. He believes that utilities want to build their own IT systems, the more expensive the better, to build their rate base. So, despite seeing a big market opportunity in delivering standardized applications and systems to utilities, there is a big market barrier caused by regulation, from his vantage point.
- Cree was also very frank about what he sees as utility consumer orientation. He noted that "their customer is their commission", and that "a good customer relationship is a customer who never calls." For the promise of smart grid to be realized, he believes that utilities are going to have to expose themselves to customers in a way they never have before.
- Brent followed that theme by noting that customers think that if they get a "smart" meter, they will automatically save money, not understanding that they will need a smart thermostat, or home energy management tool, or a change in their behavior to realize benefits.
- Both panelists talked about the publicity surrounding Pacific Gas and Electric Company's smartmeter deployments in Bakersfield. They noted that systems are exactly accurate, but that you will pick up under-reading meters and poorly estimated reads when you install new systems. They believe that an effective outreach and communications strategy is needed to prevent these issues.
- Cree noted that stimulus funding essentially drove the industry to a halt for a year, because he believes that investor-owned utilities had no interest in accepting grant funding - they want to rate base systems.
- Despite these observations, both were pretty optimistic about the industry, noting that meter-to-bill is only the start for smart meter systems, with a host of opportunities for analyzing losses, outage management, load research, and consumer applications down the road.
I will add that these observations are trenchant and accurate in my view. Again, utility regulation is not keeping pace with needed public policy directions, including energy efficiency and demand response, and as these comments note, smart grid deployment.