Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Who Has Rights to Consumer Data?

By Patty Durand, Executive Director, SGCC

If you missed our recent SGCC Peer Connect Webinar on “Right to Data Access,” I’d like to connect the dots and provide resources for you.

The webinar presented two panelists with policymaking as well as industry implementation experience to discuss principles and practices in the vital area of access to energy use and grid data – for consumers, utilities, third parties, even policymakers.  Data on end users’ energy use and data on grid operations is of high value – the more granular and timely, the better, according to our panelists. Consumers and businesses should own their energy use data, while utilities, third parties and other stakeholders using that data in aggregated, anonymized forms should be responsible stewards of it. Energy use data can be the path to engaging consumers in ways to manage energy use, save money and practice environmentally sound energy-use behavior according to their values.

Utilities may find that making end-user data available to their customers will enhance customer loyalty in an era when customers have more and more energy choice. Our two panelists revealed how stakeholders can work together to achieve value creation for consumers and others through forward-looking data-related policies and programs.  With an increasingly digital, intelligent grid, we can achieve our societal goals of smarter, more efficient and environmentally sustainable energy practices, which are precisely the consumer aspirations reflected in SGCC’s research.

Now to our panelists’ points.

Cheryl Roberto, associate vice president for clean energy at the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), has served as a PUC commissioner, a municipal utility leader, counsel for a state environmental agency and other significant roles in the energy space.

Roberto noted that the EDF has attracted significant stakeholder support for its embrace of market-based solutions to achieve widely supported environmental and sustainability goals. She also noted that, despite the widespread implementation of smart meters – some 50 million meters now serve 43 percent of U.S. homes – most Americans do not have access to their energy use data or do have access but have not chosen to access that data online. 

What are some of the ways that data can be enhanced to provide value? Utilities can use it to create customized service options, attract program participation and manage their operations and resource planning. And regulators can use data to design tariffs and evaluate utility performance. Data on energy use and grid operations can also be used by investors to assess whether their capital is yielding measurable results.

Roberto cited the EDF’s “Open Data Access Framework” that can simultaneously serve consumers, utilities, third parties and regulators while remaining competitively neutral to all parties. She pointed out that while NARUC and other organizations are in agreement at a high level, practical challenges arise in local implementation of the Framework’s principles. One such challenge is making the data useful, secure and private and balancing those values with the need to innovate and provide value to consumers. Utilities that hesitate to meet that challenge may find their customers’ loyalty wavering.

“Data is valuable enough that third parties will find a way to get it,” Roberto said. 

The Framework link above will provide a summary of principles that address customer ownership, their right to authorize (or withdraw permission for) others to use their data, and technical matters around data formats, security and other matters.

The Framework provided a segue for our other panelist, Ryan Ellen, director of advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) for Ameren Illinois, to discuss that utility’s phased approach to AMI and the implementation of the EDF’s Framework. Ameren Illinois is on track to install 188,000 smart meters this year on a multi-year march to 1.25 million in its territory.

As meters are installed, Ameren Illinois will provide data-based value to customers. During the webinar Ryan shared their “Right to Data Access” position on slide 23 for Ameren Illinois’ phased approach to AMI-based data functionality. Stage 3, scheduled for Q4 this year, includes a data-driven Peak Time Rewards Program and improved outage notification. Note that the webinar and slides are available to non-SGCC members. 

Details aside for the moment, what struck me was that Ameren Illinois worked with the EDF and its “Framework,” along with the local Citizens Utility Board (CUB) and the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) to reach consensus on how to meet the challenge of practical implementation of “Framework” principles. In fact, to Roberto’s point that most American consumers are not accessing available energy use data, Ameren Illinois is working on an app that allows mobile device access to meter data. 

In response to an audience question on customer uptake of data that’s available, the two panelists agreed that consumer education and engagement – the work we do here at SGCC – will take time. But once this value is established, many customers will increasingly avail themselves of the opportunity just as they do other areas of their life where data adds value. 

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