Navigant Research Blog

Doubts Surface About U.K. Smart Meter Rollout

— March 26, 2015

Serious doubts have surfaced about the rollout of smart meters in the United Kingdom, with a key government committee raising the issue to a new and alarming level. In its most recent report, the Energy and Climate Change (ECC) parliamentary committee concluded the program “runs the risk of falling far short of expectations. At worst it could prove to be a costly failure.”

The smart meter rollout is large, expensive, and complex. By 2020, a total of 53 million electric and gas meters are to be installed in some 30 million British homes and small businesses. The estimated cost is $16.2 billion, which is to be passed on to consumers. The cost is supposed to be offset by an estimated savings of $25.5 billion, in part from greater energy efficiency. One of the more complex features of the rollout is a communications infrastructure that aims to coordinate meter data among the energy suppliers, network operators, and authorized service providers. A government-appointed company called Smart DCC is charged with setting up this infrastructure.

Shaky Foundation  

The rollout is still in its early stage, called the foundation phase. The committee’s report expresses disappointment with several unresolved issues to this point: meters unable to communicate in multiple occupancy and tall buildings; interoperability issues among different types of meters and in-home displays; a shortage of installation engineers; network rollout delays by Smart DCC; and delays in public engagement around the program. So far, about 550,000 smart meters have been installed and are in use, which is about 1.2% of all domestic meters under management by the country’s largest energy suppliers.

The start of the next phase, called the mass rollout, has been delayed twice, as noted in a previous blog. As of now, the mass rollout is to begin in the fall of 2016. However, with this latest government report and the ongoing technical issues, that start date could slip once again.

Eventually, smart meters will be deployed widely in the United Kingdom. But given the complexities involved, it’s a good bet that the 2020 target will be missed—and perhaps by a wide margin.

 

British Gas-AlertMe Deal Signals More Home Energy Consolidation

— March 11, 2015

British Gas’ recent acquisition of AlertMe, a London-based provider of energy and home automation services, signals that home energy management and connected home technologies continue to attract significant investments. Utilities and others are seeking to provide consumers with new tools to more efficiently control energy usage and automate their homes.

The deal brings AlertMe fully under the control of British Gas, a subsidiary of Centrica, the leading energy service company in the United Kingdom. Prior to the acquisition, valued at about $68 million, British Gas was already using AlertMe’s platform. It had also been a strategic investor in AlertMe since 2010, owning about 20% of the company. British Gas leverages AlertMe’s technology for Hive, a service that enables the utility’s customers to control their home’s heating and hot water systems remotely using a smartphone, tablet, or web browser.

AlertMe was attractive to British Gas because its products and data services are used in 500,000 homes. What’s more, the platform is interoperable, able to connect disparate devices like thermostats or door locks made by different manufacturers. And AlertMe supports a range of networking protocols, including Z-Wave, ZigBee, Wi-Fi, and cellular, giving it flexibility.

Still a Crowd

The acquisition has implications in the U.S. market, as well. Home improvement retailer Lowe’s has used AlertMe technology as the underlying software platform for its Iris connected home service since 2012. AlertMe will continue to support Lowe’s and its Iris customers. Also, since British Gas’ parent Centrica owns Direct Energy, one of the largest residential energy retailers in North America, British Gas expects to offer the AlertMe technology and service to those customers as well.

In a wider context, this acquisition by British Gas underscores the increasing importance companies are placing on home energy management and the connected home. France-based utility GDF Suez recently invested $7.2 million in Tendril, a Colorado-based company specializing in cloud-based technology for personalized energy services. GDF Suez intends to use the Tendril technology for customers in Europe. In addition, solar panel manufacturer SunPower has invested in Tendril, committing $20 million to the company and agreeing to license Tendril’s technology. Similarly, Sunnyvale, California startup Bidgely, a firm specializing in energy customer engagement and analytics, has gained traction, winning new deals for its cloud-based technology with Texas-based utility TXU and Illinois-based ComEd.

Nonetheless, the energy management-connected home space is still quite crowded, with big non-utility players such as Google (Nest), AT&T (Digital Life), and Samsung (SmartThings) making plays and a number of smaller energy tech firms, such as EcoFactor, Ceiva, ecobee, and Tado, trying to compete as well. Consolidation is at hand, and we can expect to see similar deals as the market matures.

 

ConEd Details Its Smart Meter Plan

— March 11, 2015

Con Edison, also known as ConEd, one of the largest U.S. investor owned utilities, has provided details of its planned rollout of smart meters over the next several years. Contained in ConEd’s recent rate filing with the New York Public Service Commission, the plan reflects a comprehensive strategy to make smart metering the backbone of future customer engagement, as well as improve outage restoration, enhance operational performance, and ease the integration of distributed energy resources such as rooftop solar.

The utility envisions an advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) deployment over 8 years at a cost of about $1.5 billion—about $8 million this year, $69 million in 2016, $174 million in 2017, $317 million in 2018, and $306 million in 2019. Projected spending details beyond that have not been made available. The approximate number of meters involved is 3.4 million.

Aligned With the Vision

Con Edison’s AMI deployment plan also aligns with the state of New York’s wide-ranging Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) initiative, which was announced last year by Governor Andrew Cuomo. The REV initiative is aimed at transforming the state’s electric grid into a more customer-oriented industry, featuring “market-based, sustainable products and services,” with an emphasis on enabling clean distributed power generation. Smart metering, with its two-way communications functionality, is a key technology for facilitating this type of flexible, modern grid.

Even though smart meters have been around for a number of years, no deployment lacks naysayers, nor controversy. Con Edison is likely to face opposition from consumers who have concerns over health risks, privacy, and the accuracy of the data smart meters provide—concerns the industry says are unfounded.

Take Your Time

For smart meter manufacturers and infrastructure players like Landis+Gyr, Itron, General Electric, Elster, and Sensus among others, the ConEd deployment represents a significant potential opportunity. The utility is expected to announce the bidding process in the coming weeks. Given the large scale of this project, it is possible the utility will choose several vendors or a primary contractor and various partners.

At 8 years, the anticipated timeline for ConEd’s smart meter deployment appears prolonged. Other large U.S. utilities—such as Pacific Gas & Electric, San Diego Gas & Electric, Oncor, and CenterPoint Energy—have rolled out smart meters in 4–6 years. But ConEd may be playing it safe, giving itself enough of a time cushion to overcome the inevitable hurdles and detours.

ConEd’s smart meter plan hinges on regulatory approval, but regulators are inclined to be in favor, especially since the deployment fits in with the state’s REV initiative. And despite the considerable costs involved, smart meters provide benefits to both customers and the utility, and tend to outweigh any drawbacks.

 

Despite Bumpy Road, Smart Meters Deliver Benefits

— January 13, 2015

As 2015 begins, it’s clear that smart meter investments around the globe will continue to play a key role in the transformation of electric utility grids.   A new report by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) notes that the penetration of smart meters in the United States continues to climb.  As those deployments have unfolded, utilities and industry stakeholders have gained valuable experience in integrating the latest technologies that enable new grid and consumer applications.

As the FERC report notes, smart meters enable a number of applications that enhance a utility’s operational efficiency, including remote meter reading, remote meter connections and disconnections, tamper and outage detection and notification, voltage monitoring, integration of distributed energy resources (especially solar PV) through net metering, and time-based rates.  Advanced metering also provides demand-side benefits, such as deferred capital expenses, improved utilization of capital assets, reduced electricity generation, reduced environmental impacts, and more options for customers to manage consumption and lower costs.

Restorative Powers

Many of these smart meter benefits form the basis of what we described as smart metering 2.0 in Navigant Research’s free white paper, Smart Grid: 10 Trends to Watch in 2015 and Beyond.  Installing meters – just the first step in transforming the grid – lays the foundation for enhanced consumer engagement, demand response capabilities, and overall utility efficiency.  One recent example came from Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), which credited its smart grid technology for the quick return of power to half a million customers who had electricity knocked out when violent storms rumbled across Northern California in mid-December 2014.  The company said it restored power to more than 95% of those customers who lost power in less than 48 hours.

Outside the United States, smart meter deployments will expand in 2015.  In Japan, for instance, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) is expected to accelerate its smart meter deployments as it attempts to install 27 million devices by 2020.  Japan’s nine other major utilities will soon follow with initial deployments that will eventually lead to a total of 80 million smart meters nationwide by 2024.  In Europe, France’s national utility Electricité Réseau Distribution France (ERDF) is expected to ramp up smart meter deployments as well, and deployments in Spain are expected to continue apace.

Best Laid Plans

But deployments don’t always go as planned, and schedules can get bumpy.  In Britain, for instance, the rollout of smart meters was supposed to accelerate in 2015, but another delay has pushed back the massive deployment until 2016.  In Germany, smart metering remains on a slower track since regulators said utilities can conduct deployments in a targeted way.  And even in places where smart meters are now common, such as Ontario, Canada, the debate about their value relative to the cost continues.

Nonetheless, investments in smart meters and related grid technologies will expand in 2015 and in the following years (see Navigant Research’s report, Smart Meters, for a detailed forecast).  New deployments will face challenges, especially large and complex ones like the one in Great Britain, which includes gas meters along with electric ones, and in Japan, where several communication standards are in play.  Even so, the value of smart metering technologies is undeniable, and they will continue to be a foundational piece of future smart grids.

 

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