The Smart Grid Data Learning Curve for Consumers

Last week I wrote about the challenges of Smart Grid data impacting utilities and potential outsourcing trends.  While utilities do have a learning curve to climb about data management and analytics, end users (residential, commercial, and industrial customers) also need to learn the ramifications of the creation and use of entirely new data about them.  This new data will be valuable to consumers, energy service providers, and a myriad of third parties.  Utilities need to determine the most cost and time-effective ways to handle the “big data” at the consumer edge of the Smart Grid.  Consumers need to pay attention to how that data is managed and used, and the monetization of its value as recently highlighted in the Apple iPhone tracking disclosure.

How many smart phone users understood that by downloading certain mobile applications with Location Services they were implicitly agreeing to share information with those app developers?  The real price paid for a free or inexpensive mobile application was the app developer’s collection of their physical location data, and the sale of that data to any companies of the app developer’s choosing.  There is no free lunch. 

Location data is relatively new, and there are few policies in place about its management.  In fact, Verizon Wireless just added a warning sticker –basically a “user beware” message to its phones.  

Energy consumption data is also new, and should have a similar “handle with care” sticker on it.  Data from smart meters is very new, and while consensus seems to have coalesced around consumer ownership of their own energy consumption data, the policies and practices are still being defined.  Here is a great example of a utility’s data privacy policy regarding how they work with consumer and energy usage data.   However, one of the complexities about energy consumption data is that it can be derived from a couple of different sources.  Some data is collected by utilities from smart meters, but other data may be collected from devices that communicate over the Internet, and this data does not necessarily end up with utilities.  A consumer using a Home Energy Management System (HEMS) solution that is supplied by a service provider other than their utility needs to understand that service provider’s policies about their energy data. 

Energy consumption data is so new that the benefits of data analytics and business intelligence are just beginning to be understood.  There’s a growing body of evidence that consumers armed with detailed knowledge of their energy use successfully reduce their consumption of electricity, and willingly participate in programs that analyze energy data for further reductions.  I’d happily share information about my IP-enabled refrigerator’s performance with the manufacturer or a selected appliance repair service to avoid the total meltdown of a failed freezer.  However, I would be extremely unhappy if that manufacturer or service was selling my data to other companies without my permission, and I did not derive some financial benefit from it. 

The bottom line is that it is very important for consumers to educate themselves on the collection and use of energy consumption data.   It is equally important to understand the policies governing the data, and whose policies apply.   As we learned from Apple and Verizon, it takes time for businesses and consumers to build knowledge in the intended and unintended uses of new data.