Monday, December 14, 2009

Shock or Joy? Power Meters and the core of everything: Data

In many countries the end of year also is the time when power meters, or utility meters in general, are read out. When we lived in California the meters were manually read once a month and the monthly bill reflected the previous month's usage - with all its ups and downs. The feedback was more or less immediate which was good, but the amount to pay also significantly alternated between highs in Winter and Summer and lows in Spring and Fall.

In Germany, the meters are typically read once a year and the monthly amount is based on the averaged out estimate for the next year. You can plan ahead for the upcoming months in terms of payments, but for most people there is no direct feedback on their consumption. Our power meters will be read out over the next few days and I am happily expecting the annual statement sometime in January.

In some regions the Utilities have started deploying Smart Meters. In California, PG&E is changing to them, in Germany households are expected to move to them over time, too. I am still waiting for mine.

Why I am interested in it? First, direct feedback is valuable to improve or optimize consumption - monthly data is better than annual, daily or even immediate input better than monthly. Second, it is interesting to see what kind of data could be made available and in what format. My format of choice would be XML because of its flexibility and tooling support. Third, based on finer granularity, better pricing could be available (avoid the peak hours and save). Fourth, based on the data, you or a third-party company could analyze your consumption, compare with peer groups and look into finding ways to improve your monthly bill. Some companies already offer energy optimization services to enterprises and take a share of the savings.

Last, it would be fun to store XML-based energy data in DB2 pureXML and manage and analyze it myself.

What is at the core of all this is the data. Without its availability (in a usable format), there is no insight, no improvement (greener planet), no founding of new companies.