Smart Meters: A Smart Idea

Despite pockets of resistance in various parts throughout North America, utilities are continuing to deploy smart meters as part of a greater vision to build a smart grid. Ontario began installing smart meters en masse in 2007. BC Hydro has been installing smart meters with the goal of having all of its customers with one by the end of 2012. SaskPower has also started installing smart meters to customers in October of this year.

Smart meters have also been deployed in many jurisdictions in the United States as well. According to Greentech Media, one third of all US households have had smart meters installed. Larger states like California, Texas, and Florida will have installed smart meters in more than half of all households by 2015.

 Expected smart meter deployments by state

The rationale for this is quite simple; a smart grid is a sound investment for the future with significant added benefits such as more efficient energy use, renewable energy accommodation, and decreased chance of a massive power outage.

Since smart meters are able to timestamp a customer’s electricity consumption, it is possible to implement time-of-use pricing, which will compel people to think twice about their energy usage. Now customers will be able to shift more energy intensive activities to less expensive times like early in the morning or late at night where demand is considerably less than in the middle of the day. Or they can save money by decreasing energy usage during higher demand periods. This will ease the strain on the grid, allowing for a more consistent daily demand without major spikes in the middle of the day. It will also help customers choose wisely when it comes to energy use resulting in an overall decrease in demand.

Ontario Hydro Time of Use Rates

Ontario Hydro Time of Use Rates

The future of our grid is looking greener. A previous Energent blog post indicated that wind power is going to make up a significant portion of Ontario’s grid in the coming years. Other regions around the world continue to increase renewable energy production as well. As more renewable and intermittent energy is added to the grid, utilities will need to balance demand with generation even more carefully. But with a vast network of smart meters consistently sending utilities energy consumption data, this balancing act becomes much simpler. Armed with this data, generators can scale down energy production from more polluting sources allowing renewables to supply the grid instead, which will reduce pollution and carbon emissions.

Solar Wind Farm

Solar Wind Farm

As a result of less strain on the grid brought about by consistent communication between utilities and smart meters, power outages are less likely to occur. As the complex balancing act between generation, distribution and consumption is more simplified by a smart grid, the chances of power lines coming into contact with branches causing surges is less likely to occur. In the event of a power outage, utilities will know much quicker as the smart meters will stop sending data altogether, allowing them to respond quicker.

Toronto skyline during the 2003 blackout

Toronto skyline during the 2003 blackout

For utilities, the rationale is simple for smart meters; more information concerning the grid will improve service by preventing and responding quicker to power outages, and in the long run, help save energy through load shifting and decreased demand brought about by time-of-use pricing. The integration of renewable energy sources to the grid is an added bonus that can drastically reduce our carbon emissions. The fact that there is resistance to smart meters shouldn’t and won’t deter utilities from deploying them when the benefits are so obvious. The world is getting smarter; the grid needs to get smarter with it.

Winds of Change

Ontario’s power generation is changing rapidly. By 2014, there will be no more coal generation while renewable energy sources (particularly wind) will make up the difference. This goal has been lauded by a number of environmental groups as it will help lower Ontario’s carbon emissions, reduce air pollution, decrease our reliance on non-renewable sources of energy and at the same time, create jobs in a rapidly growing industry. However, no matter how positive these changes may be, there are certain concerns that need to be addressed about going green.

Wind Farm

Amaranth Wind Farm, the largest of its kind in Ontario

Wind power has made significant strides here in Ontario; the industry has seen an increase in the number of large scale turbines from 10 in 2003 to more than 700 today. You can also expect that number to increase in the coming years as well. According to the Ontario Ministry of Energy’s Long Term Plan, by 2030, wind power will generate 10% of the province’s energy needs (in 2010, it supplied only 2%).

Increasing our reliance on wind turbines, however, has its own set of challenges. Unlike other sources of energy such as nuclear, coal or natural gas, wind turbines can only generate energy if there is a sufficient breeze. As a result of this inherent flaw, wind power is not ideal for baseload capacity as it is not entirely reliable. Of course, when building wind turbines, energy planners look to build turbines in areas that are consistently windy, however, it’s possible that even the most notoriously windy areas can go without a breeze for prolonged periods of time.

With this in mind, the all-too-important balancing act between generation and consumption becomes slightly more complicated. Adding an increasing amount of intermittent wind power might cause generating capacity to fluctuate over shorter periods of time. Currently, whatever wind capacity is generated is used as there is no viable way to store energy in Ontario, and on days where demand is considerably higher and wind cannot make up the difference, more nuclear and natural gas generation fills the void. Although our current grid can adjust load to compensate for wind power, a greater understanding of what is happening to our grid at all times will be needed in the likely event that renewables will play an increasingly larger role. In the worst case scenario, excess wind generation will need to be sent to neighbouring grids that may need extra capacity (e.g. Quebec, New York, Michigan) so as to avoid potentially catastrophic overloads (refer to the August blog post).

Energy Grid Management Facility

Managing our grid will be paramount in future years

Another issue that should likely arise due to increased wind capacity is energy cost. Although several cost analysis have suggested that wind power is competitive with other sources of energy in terms of cost, as a result of massive subsidies given to nuclear power, wind is considerably more expensive per kWh. As such, more wind power will likely increase peoples’ utility bills in the near future.

With the rising cost of energy, a greater emphasis is placed on energy management and conservation. As mentioned in a previous blog post, energy management systems for large industrial and commercial operations can help reduce energy consumption and utility costs. Furthermore, an energy management system can pay for itself through energy savings within months of deployment.

Increasing wind generation capacity in Ontario will benefit the environment greatly. The challenges that come with it on the other hand, are not reasons to prevent more wind generation, but rather they should be seen as a warning that there is no perfect and certainly no free solution to our energy issues. Wind energy can play a very crucial role in our electricity system and although it may cost more and require additional technology and infrastructure to support it, if business and industry move forward intelligently, there should be no reason why we can’t have lower utility bills and an adequate supply of energy.

What’s the value of information?

Energent has a suite of software that measures, analyzes, and reports on real-time energy consumption for hospitals, commercial buildings, and industrial clients.  During our engagement process, we often are asked “What exactly does your system do?”  It doesn’t close valves, turn off lights, or turn down your air conditioner.  What it does do is give your team the information it needs to make smart energy management decisions and report on the impact that those decisions had on the organization.

When we talk about the value of information to our clients and prospects, we break it down into 3 areas:

1. Concrete evidence

2. Business planning and prediction

3. Less information, better information

Concrete Evidence

Information can give you evidence that something happened, and accurately quantify that event.  In our case, we provide real-time evidence that energy is being over consumed and by how much.  Sometimes this is done using billing data and is usually 6-8 weeks behind.  In real-time monitoring, we can provide this information same day or next day, saving thousands of dollars if energy is being wasted because of a broken valve or leaking tank.  This information is inrefutable as we are collecting this info directly from the meter with no ‘middle man’.

There is significant value is reducing energy waste for all industries.

Business Planning and Prediction

How many times have you heard that before the company invests in a captial project, infrastructure, etc., it must see an ROI within xx months.  Using comprehensive mathematical modeling, we can accurately predict when that ROI will be achieved using real data.  No more guessing.  The information is provided and leadership can make a decision about capital projects and retrofits.

There is significant value in adding a layer of confidence to business planning.

Less Information, Better Information

Facility managers may have to review 20 reports every day or every week to keep track of their numerous systems, controls, and machines.  More often than not, these reports are ignored by the facility manager because it is simply too time consuming to review these reports for the 1 or 2 pieces of information they need to make decisions.

For us, we often see our clients use the reporting tool to consolidate all of the other reports into 3-4 key pieces of information that they can quickly digest and move on.

No longer is more information better.  Better information is more valuable.

What are your thoughts on the value of information?  Do people over-sell the value?

Thanks for reading


Energy Hub Management System

Along with our core Energy Management Information Systems that we offer to industrial, institutional, and commercial clients as a way of managing their energy use, we are working very closely with the University of Waterloo, Ontario Centres of Excellence, Ontario Power Authority, Hydro One, and Milton Hydro to create the Energy Hub Management System (EHMS).

The EHMS is a web-based platform that connects all of your appliances and energy-consuming circuits in your house, and provides visibility into the cost and impact of operating these devices.  On top of the, EHMS has a complex scheduling system in place that aggregates a series of profiles that describe your energy preferences (lowest cost, lowest carbon footprint, etc.) and automatically schedules your appliances to operate only during times that fit your profile.

This portion of the “smart grid”, the consumer side, is vital to the longevity of our electricity infrastructure.  Much of our electricity wires, plants, and towers are 70 years old, and we must begin to replace these power lines soon.  But at the same time, to take the pressure off these line, we must lower consumption.  The EHMS gives insight into which appliances are consuming the most power, and the cost of running these appliances.  Giving consumers real dollar amounts will encourage behaviour change, and encourage conservation.

For more information on the Energy Hub Management System, check out  There is also more information in the 3 min video below.

Why do Compaines care about their Carbon Footprint?

Energent has just released our newest module, EnergentGHG.  Using this product, companies are able to accurately, and in real-time, report all of thier scope 1 and scope 2 carbon and greenhouse gas emissions in a number of ways.  Companies can use tons of C02e (carbon equivalents), actual greenhouse gas emissions (CO2, N2O & CH4), or in energy equivalents which helps people relate consumption and emissions to every day activities.

But more importantly, why do companies care?  Energent is interested in finding out what the driver(s) are for monitoring their carbon footprint.  Is it financial?  Sustainability?  Both?  Neither?  We know there is more and more interest in carbon emissions and the impact they are having on the environment.  We  have also heard about the “triple bottom line” and how companies are thinking about corporate sustainability in the same way they think about profitability.  What about your company?

Fill out the poll attached to this blog post and let us know why your company cares about their carbon footprint.  We will talk about the results in a future post.