Do you know what time it is? Does your electricity meter?
One of the largest technological shifts currently underway in North America is in the Utility sector through the application of smart meters. These smart meters are replacing old conventional meters, not only having the ability to monitor energy consumption based on time of day, but in most cases communicating its data wirelessly back to the utility provider. The transition to smart meters is providing a plethora of new sustainable business opportunities across multiple industries, some of which are described below.
Sustainability Opportunities from Utilities
The deployment of smart meters is no small task, as each of the old conventional meters must be replaced. Capgemini has worked with utility companies to ensure that during the implementation of a new smart meter program, old meters are recycled with as many reusable and recyclable parts removed for processing before throwing away only the minimum amount of waste. This effort greatly reduces the amount of waste sent to landfills; a growing concern mentioned in the previous blog post.
The switch to smart meters can also provide utility companies the opportunity to refine their business processes, such as switching to paperless operations. Orders can be sent electronically to field installers, operating using handheld devices with data typed into regulated forms greatly reducing data errors. Once the meters are installed, consumption data is transmitted wirelessly, eliminating the emissions from meter readers who continuously drive around to read each display.
Possibly the largest sustainability driver for utility companies occurs once the customer obtains the smart meter and Time-of-Use (ToU) billing is implemented, meaning the customer is billed at varying consumption rates depending on the time of day. Customers are incented to utilize power during off peak periods of energy demand, thus causing a load shift from peak energy demand periods. This load shifting lowers overall peak production requirements by utilities. Often during peak demand periods, utilities require additional power generation from large CO2 emitting coal plants. If the overall peak demand is lowered preventing additional coal plants the environmental savings can be HUGE.
Sustainability Opportunities from Consumer Goods
With ToU billing in place, consumers are incentivized to avoid energy consumption during peak periods, with lowest rates typically about half that compared with peak periods, and begin in the late evening until early morning. Products are becoming “smarter” in response, with companies now making appliances such as dishwashers, laundry machines and dryers with built in timers to run during off peak periods, saving the consumer large amounts of money over time. These technological innovations continue to be applied with environmental impact considerations and add increased pressure on companies who are not yet incorporating sustainability as a core component of design and marketing.
Sustainability Opportunities from Consumers
The switch to smart meters is also allowing the consumer increased visibility into his or her consumption, within as little as one day. Online tools and mobile apps are also becoming available which further allows data to be readily available to the customer, increasing awareness and raising urgency to reduce consumption. Consumers are beginning to find ways to reduce energy within their house, such as switching to energy efficient lighting, or improving windows/doors to prevent drafts. All of these efforts have subsequent effects on the products that are purchased and the demands placed on companies to improve their sustainability programs and adjust accordingly.
I am excited with the transition to smart metering and look forward to a future of technological advances to exploit all the possible opportunities, many of which will increase our focus on reducing consumption and lowering our environmental impact.
This post was authored by Kevin Marcotte, Senior Consultant at Capgemini.