The one who holds the data holds the power. But what if the data is dangling there but no-one’s worked out how to share it around? Recognising the latent value in the information generated by its electricity meters, New Zealand-based energy company Vector has formed an alliance with Amazon Web Services to develop a cloud-based repository where energy data can be stored and crunched.
The New Energy Platform will be introduced first in Australia and New Zealand, where about 70 energy retailers and more than 40 distribution networks will no doubt pounce on its valuable contents.
“Data capture and processing is a real bottleneck,” says Vector chief digital officer Nikhil Ravishankar. “Once you unleash data in an energy sector, there is always a transformative effect – and most often it is in the favour of the end consumer.”
Ravishankar draws an analogy. “If you think of the New Energy Platform more like an app store – a specialised app store for energy apps – the first of the apps we are looking to build is the meter information management platform,” he says. This meter information platform, or MIP for short, will connect to Vector’s 1.6 million meters, 300,000 of which are installed in Australia – where the meter population is growing at about 10,000 a month.
One of the first steps, Ravishankar says, will be to build the data processing platform required to shift to the five-minute market settlement model, due to be implemented from October 1 next year. A data processing application that is flexible enough will be able to meet the frequency requirements of the market and address affordability, Ravishankar says, but also provide new services that are not available today.
“Today, most if not all of the application of the smart meter is to support a billing function,” he admits.
Balance of power
Vector is contracted through its metering business with retailers to own meters and manage the data they send out. As the balance of power between suppliers and consumers settles along subtly more egalitarian lines, oiled by competition and uptake of solar, Vector’s energy retailer customers will be searching for ways to retain clients and grow billings. A deep well of data will allow them much more opportunity to tailor the best solutions for households and businesses.
But Ravishankar says the possibilities extend further. The owners of generating assets and long, fractal transmission and distribution networks are always battling to understand the best ways to optimise their operations, where upgrades and maintenance are significant costs. If they can finally see the activity of distributed energy resources within their networks, they will be able to achieve a more harmonious delivery – although no-one’s saying it will be easy.
Regulators are moving towards full democratisation of energy data, Ravishankar says, and it’s time to adapt. “We see that coming and we are preparing to make sure that we as a metering business are in a position to meet those expectations that the regulator sets.”
The meter reader
But not all meters are Vector’s. So how many smart meters does it take to understand the energy behaviour of an entire region? Vector also runs a distribution business that covers Auckland, by far the biggest city in New Zealand, and its technicians spend a lot of time pondering this question. The data platform will allow Vector to simplify matters by planting meters where their intelligence will be most effective.
“Most distribution or network companies have very little visibility of the low-voltage network,” Ravishankar says. “A fair amount of use cases can be met by just metering at a feeder level or a distribution transformer level.”
Meters send back much more than information about time-of-use; they also profile voltage power quality, which can help distribution companies manage the effects of increasing solar ownership within a network.
The New Energy Platform will offer support to demand response aggregators or anyone facilitating a distributed energy resource management system, Ravishankar says. “That’s absolutely one of the things we would want to support, by giving people more visibility of their own demand profile and usage and letting them participate in the market.”