Smart Meters: Why should I care?

Picture this, an electrical grid perfectly balancing generation, demand and distribution. A grid that is capable of accommodating abundant wind, solar and other renewable sources of energy into its system without issue or complication. On the rare occasion that problems occur, they are quick to be resolved. Such a technological wonder is not only possible but is already under way and it has started with the mass deployment of smart meters, so why then is there so much opposition towards them?

Smart Meter

Smart meters like this one are being deployed across North America

For those that don’t know, a smart meter is a device that collects a building’s energy use along with the time it was used which is then sent to the utility companies via Wi-Fi network at set intervals per day. Utilities will then use this data to get a more accurate, up-to-date picture of demand and consumption, which will make the grid easier to manage.

Currently, many utility companies across North America are installing smart meters at peoples’ homes and businesses as part of a greater vision to build a smart grid. There has been, however, a significant amount of resistance to them in many areas. In British Columbia, many groups have sprung up vehemently opposing smart meters. In a more extreme example, some families in Texas have been threatening utility workers at gun point to prevent smart meter installations. Such resistance to a seemingly benign piece of hardware has raised concerns over privacy invasion and health risks. However, are these legitimate concerns? Are these groups just buying into their own paranoia? Looking into this subject, it seems like logic and science are being ignored at the expense of innovation and progress.

BC Residents Protest smart meters

British Columbia has become a hot bed of smart meter opposition

Much opposition towards smart meters is that fact that they monitor a building’s energy usage throughout the day. Some are concerned that this is an invasion of privacy and is akin to a form of surveillance. Although smart meters will give utilities a more accurate picture of how much energy you’re consuming throughout the day, utilities will not know how you’re using that energy. This is similar to how we already deal with our internet service providers (ISP). Most ISPs will know how much bandwidth you’ve used, but they won’t know whether your bandwidth was used for downloading, uploading, streaming, etc. Privacy hasn’t been violated; the ISP is merely collecting your bandwidth usage so that they can bill you for the services they provide. Utilities will work in the exact same manner (as they do now), the only real change brought about by smart meters is that utilities will now gather your energy data via Wi-Fi signals, which is the other main area of concern for smart meter opponents.

The radio frequency (RF) radiation emitted by a smart meter’s Wi-Fi component is often cited as a major health risk by smart meter opponents. However, given the common sources of RF radiation, it seems short-sighted to villainize smart meters. Any wireless device will emit RF radiation; this includes cell phones, wireless routers, radios, garage door openers, etc. According to the American Cancer Society, cell phones will emit significantly more RF radiation than a smart meter and at a closer distance as cell phones are often pressed against a person’s ear whereas a smart meter is usually located outside of a building. Furthermore, a smart meter doesn’t emit RF radiation continuously like a cell phone; it will only emit when sending data to the utility. This is all making the assumption that the amount of RF radiation emitted by cell phones even poses a health risk in the first place, which modern science has flatly refuted. Frankly, the Sun is a far more dangerous emitter of radiation (and a proven cause of cancer) than any cell phone or smart meter, but that doesn’t seem to stop smart meter opponents from stepping outside to protest.

Sun

Beware, it could actually kill you… unlike a smart meter

The proven benefits of smart meters outweigh any inconclusive (or downright false) claims surrounding them. As more and more buildings have them installed, the grid will become far more interconnected in terms of its ability to share energy data information with utilities. It will make our grid more efficient, more responsive, and could potentially save us billions of dollars in the long run. But all this could be delayed or even prevented if smart meters continue to be opposed for illogical reasons. Now is not the time to let stupidity impede progress.

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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.

Exciting announcements at OCE Discovery last week

Energent is very proud to announce the latest investment the Ontario government has made in improving the Smart Grid infrastructure.  On Tuesday, May 15th, Sean Conway, Chairman of the Board of the Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE) and Brad Duguid, Minister of Economic Development and Innovation, announced support for an innovative partnership between Energent and Wilfrid Laurier University.

Gord Ellis, CTO of Energent Inc., and Wilfrid Laurier University are collaborating on a communications software system that can potentially be installed on all smart grid devices to allow them to communicate with each other to facilitate smarter, more effective, efficient energy use. The platform is now under development with a prototype, and further research and development will be conducted in collaboration with the team from Wilfrid Laurier.

This exciting infrastructure development, designed to design and create a communications middleware system, will be powerful enough to handle the increased amounts of data that are part of the Smart Grid.  “The Grid is going to be all about data management” says Sean Conway, Chair of the OCE Board of Directors, “and therefore the Grid must communicate effectively and reliably, and must be able to handle vast amounts of data.”  This collaboration will enable all three of these communication goals, providing a stable platform for which the Smart Grid to grow from.

These are two videos announcing the project below in this blog post.

 

Celebrating Earth Hour

Energent is excited to support the 2012 Earth Hour on March 31.  For one hour, between 8:30pm and 9:30pm, millions of Canadians will come together and turn off their lights.  We will be turning our lights off at the office and at home to support this important event, and encourage everyone to do the same.

We will be monitoring the collective effect of our client’s Earth Hour response.  We encourage you to check our website after Earth Hour to see the positive impact our clients have made.   Also, we want to know what your organizations or personal energy saving tips and tricks are.  Each one of our clients will receive a special report highlighting the success of their Earth Hour response.  This will give each of our clients an opportunity  to show their stakeholders the value of initiating Energy Conservation Measures (ECMs) that in many cases cost the organization no money.

We look forward to watching our clients make this significant contribution to Earth Hour, and sharing this response to the world.  Click on the link below to participate in our poll.

Thanks for reading!

Energent at Globe2012 – Shifting Focus from “If” to “Now”

Energent just returned from a very successful and enlightening week at the Globe2012 conference in Vancouver, BC.  Aside from attending very compelling presentations by global leaders in sustainability, meeting visionaries from within organizations dedicated to changing the way their business operates, we noticed a decided shift from talk to action.  No longer are the conversations blue sky and what-ifs; they are about concrete actions and achieved results.

In our environment, those that are interested in energy management of commercial, institutional, and industrial building are pushing their current systems to keep up to the demand of an engaged and enthusiastic energy manager.  The are asking questions like:

What if my energy monitoring system could build in best-case scenarios and I could build business cases directly from the reporting tool?

They are pushing their monitoring systems by saying:

I need my energy monitoring system to help me manage energy in every part of my business, and experts to help me use this tool.

Ultimately, we have found that an Energy Management system is very similar to a gym membership.  If you buy an Energy Management system and just look at it, you aren’t going to be very successful at managing energy.  If you buy a gym membership to lose weight and you just keep the card in your wallet, you aren’t going to be very successful at losing weight or getting healthier.

Energy Management is a participation sport.  We are going to focus on that in our next few posts because Energy Managers have been lied to for the past 5+ years.  We want to set the record straight…and based on the presentations at Globe2012, software providers are going to be pushed to provide more than data.  We need to start taking that data and turning into information, and from that information, use people combined with the software tools, to create knowledge.  Knowledge will enable a true revolution in energy management.

Stay tuned as we teach all energy managers about turning mountains of data into usable knowledge that will enable great decisions.

Thanks to the presenters and attendees at Globe2012 for focusing the conversation from “If” to “Now”.  Amazing.

Don’t forget that Energent is hosting its newest webinar or Greenhouse Gas reporting requirments for public builings Thursday, March 22 at 2pm EST  Click here to register.

Energent particpating at Globe 2012

Energent is excited to be part of the premiere global conference on sustainability and the environmental economy.  Globe 2012 brings together a worldwide audience to discuss and debate the pressing issues of the economics of environmental sustainability.  Energent is excited to be part of this world-class conference and tradeshow, and to participate as part of the Ontario Pavillion.

At the tradeshow, Energent will be showcasing two products.  The first product is Energent’s class-leading Energy Management Information System.  Energent’s EMIS platform provides visibility into the real-time energy consumption of operations in industrial, institutional, and commercial buildings.  The comprehensive reporting and alerting that is enabled because of the Energent platform drives companies to lower energy consumption and save money.

Energent will also be presenting it’s leading-edge Home Energy Smart Grid platform.  The Energy Hub Management System (EHMS) is being deployed across Ontario through partnerships with Hydro One, Ontario Power Authority, and the University of Waterloo.  Energent’s EHMS is a web-based, two-way communication and software optimization  engine, providing every home with the opportunity to optimize thier home energy consumption based on goals for the end user and the Utility.  Home owners see value through lower energy costs and improved visibility into their consumption, and Utilities will be able to optimize the distribution of electricity to thousands of homes, lowering peaks, and improving efficiency.

At the conference, Energenet will be presenting an update on the roll out across Ontario and will welcome other Utilities and jurisdictions that are interested in grid optimization to speak to them at Globe.

To arrange a meeting with Energent at the Globe 2012 conference on either the EMIS or the Smart Grid EHMS, please contact Craig Haney at chaney@energent.com, or by phone at 519-725-0906 x2007.  Energent is looking for productive meetings with utilities and municipalities interested in reducing peak demand on their grid through Home Energy Management plans.  Energent is also interested in meeting with commercial building operators, municipalities, and manufacturing organizations looking to lower their energy consumption through real-time reporting and ehanced energy analytics.

Look for Energent at Globe 2012 in booth 1117-13 at the Ontario Pavillion on the Globe Tradeshow Floor.

Thanks for reading

It’s tough to be in manufacturing these days

It’s pretty difficult for manufacturers in North America to compete.  This is nothing new to this industry, but it doesn’t make it any easier to manage.  Recently in Ontario we have seen some very high profile manufacturing plants close and move operations to some other jurisdiction.  In both these cases, these jobs stayed within North America, but the plants were closed for the same reason…to reduce costs.

Energent was created when our manufacturing clients wanted to understand their energy use, with the ultimate goal of reducing their energy costs.  Since 2007, we have been working with manufacturing clients to help them achieve these two primary goals:

  1. Better understand where their energy is being spent
  2. How to reduce the cost of energy and maintain production

We receive the most interest from manufacturers when times are tough and they are looking for every possible savings opportunity.  Energy is rarely thought of as a manageable expense, but that is changing every day.

Electricity and Natural Gas are already an important part of most manufacturer’s budget considerations.  Most VP’s of production in manufacturing facilities pay their energy bills without consideration of how to change them.  We often hear

We can’t change production schedules to accommodate energy costs.  How else can we manage this expense?

Energy management comes in all forms, including altering productions schedules when that is feasible.  When it’s not, information on energy’s contribution to each production line highlights where savings can be found.

In a case study on our website showcases how a simple analysis of furnaces in different production lines produced savings in the first year of $240,000!  No change in production, no costly retrofits.  It was found that one furnace was significantly less efficient than the other furnaces, and once the furnace manufacturer repaired the furnace,  their natural gas consumption significantly dropped, with no change in production.

As manufacturers continue to look for innovative and impactful cost reductions, energy can become a manageable expense and a strategic opportunity to increase profits.  We are committed to supporting the manufacturing sector and will do what we can to offer cost-effective solutions that support this important economic engine.

Thanks for reading

Energy Management comes home

This week, the US Government announced the Green Button Initiative with the hopes that millions of home owners will be able to monitor and control their home utility bills through the web and smartphone apps.  The New York Times wrote a strong blog post on it today (you can see it here)This is definitely not another “big brother” initiative by the White House; this is a plan that will encourage and enable the private sector to build tools to support this government program.  Three of California’s largest utilties joined the Initiative to encourage adoption of a standard by which Utilities will home utility bill information can be viewed and downloaded directly from the Utility website.

It’s a very interesting strategy put forth from the White House.  Encourage the big utilties to share information in a consistent manner, then step out of the way and watch the private sector fill in the gaps.  More importantly, will home owners care enough to find this information on their Utility’s website, or will they just think it’s noise that needs to be drowned out?  Our hope is that people will care, but our belief is that they will only care if it makes financial sense to care.

Energent is deploying Home Energy Management Systems across the province with the goal to reduce electricity consumption and increase awareness.  The data isn’t in yet as to the impact on electricity reduction, but our research tells us that will coincide with the level of engagement.  So, what does this mean?  Energent believes that we have to engage the end consumer and make energy relevant to them.  To do this it must be easy to collect the data, interesting to read, and will save them enough money that it matters.

Creating a standardized platform to allow users to easily access and review this information is a great first step.  It is now up to the Utilities and the private sector to create compelling reasons and great products to drive this Home Energy Management business model.  Any business models that are based solely on government subsidies are at best mediocre, and at worst doomed.  Here’s hoping we can all do our part in Canada and the United States to build this market into a meaningful growth opportunity, not one of just speculation and government handouts.

Thanks for reading.

 

ISO 50001 Energy Management

During the summer, Canada, along with 42 other countries, participated in developing the first global standard for Energy Management Systems: ISO 50001.  ISO 50001 is a voluntary, internationally accepted framework for the management of energy for businesses of all sizes and in all industries.  It has laid out a clear path to the efficient management of energy by requiring organizations to:

  • Conduct an energy review
  • Establish an energy baseline
  • Develop energy objectives and targets that are measurable and set timelines for achievement
  • Implement the action plan
  • Check performance
  • Monitor, document and report

ISO 50001 is based on the “Plan-Do-Check-Act” framework for continual improvement:

PLAN – Establish the objectives and processes necessary to deliver results in accordance with opportunities to improve energy performance and policies

DO – Implement the process

CHECK – Monitor and measure processes and product against policies, objectives and key operations characteristics, then report on the results

ACT –  Take actions to continually improve energy performance

Leger Marketing conducted a survey on behalf of CSA to better understand what Canadian Executives thought about energy management.  The survey found that “79 per cent of Canadian executives believe that energy efficiency is a
key component to business success,” said Bonnie Rose, President, CSA
Standards. “And although the bottom line is not the only measure of
success, the implementation of ISO 50001 will help businesses move
forward in achieving their environmental goals by reducing their energy
consumption and carbon footprint, while also recognizing the cost
savings associated with reduced energy consumption.”

In that same survey, it found that 20% of executes believed that they would gain a competitive advantage by declaring their commitment to reducing energy consumption or improving environmental performance.

ISO 50001 is designed to help guide businesses to properly implement and monitor a successful energy management strategy.  How important is Energy in your business?  Do you budget energy as a manageable expense?

I would love to hear your comments.

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

Craig