What Is Being Offered?Farsighted utilities are offering online access to customer interval data and even the software to use it. Interval data shows electrical usage (or demand) in short (15-min to 1-hr) increments that, when properly analyzed, may reveal opportunities for cutting peak demand or otherwise reducing electric bills.
Where wholesale hourly power markets are managed by independent system operators (ISO), and/or where real-time pricing is available, having a clear idea of how one's load profile varies by the hour may be essential to making the most of such opportunities. Obtaining such data requires presence of an interval meter, which is common for larger customers and those taking time-of-use service.
A recent survey by Chartwell Inc., a utility market research company, found that 30% of those utilities surveyed provided energy management software for analyzing energy data (often including interval data), and/or the data itself, through online access. Another 12% were planning or considering such services. In most cases, services are offered at little or no cost to customers. The survey found that, where offered, it was tied with energy efficiency audits and consultations as a utility's most popular product.
If you're unsure if your utility offers this option, contact your account service rep and/or check the utility's website, which should be shown on your bill. If not, you may find a link to it at www.electricityforum.com/links/usutil.htm.
What Is Being Offered?Aiming mainly at their commercial and industrial (C&I) level customers (typically those with peak demands in the neighborhood of 1,000 kW or more), such utilities have created protected webpages that allow customers to download their interval data by entering account numbers and the dates covering the usage they wish to examine. Past "Energy Wiz" columns featuring techniques for analyzing such data may be found in the article archives on this website's archive section (check February 2002 and November 2003).
The various brands of online analysis software that are being offered vary in their capabilities, and some utilities offer only stripped-down versions. Purchasing full versions may retail for as little as a few thousand dollars or as much as $30,000, depending on the sophistication of the bells and whistles offered by each. Most of the versions offered online, however, feature some (or all) of the following options:
- Benchmarking among a customer's accounts and possibly usage of others in a utility database;
- Development of energy profiles, from the interval level up to annual usage;
- Racking of energy savings and use; and
- Correction for variables, such as weather, occupancy, and production.
Others may offer simplified models that allow cost and usage projections under a variety of conditions, including various tariff and pricing models.
The Chartwell study lists over a dozen brands of software chosen by various utilities, along with some of their features. Surprisingly, the utilities offering such services vary widely, with co-op utilities sometimes offering more than larger investor-owned utilities.
One of the more interesting findings of the Chartwell study is that, without the online software, many endusers had difficulty grasping how to apply the energy data they accessed online. One of the software vendors interviewed for the study found that many C&I customers didn't know how to use their energy data. "Don't just give them a load profile," he said. "They want you to let them know when there is a problem and what to do about it."