The power of data to transform our energy system for consumers

The power of data to transform our energy system for consumers

Please note: This post was co-written with Jon Dogterom, MaRS cleantech practice lead. 

Travel the highways of Ontario and you will see solar panels on rooftops and wind turbines on the shores of lakes in numbers that can’t be ignored. Ontario’s energy industry is undergoing changes.

Another not-so-visible shift is happening with the upsurge in consumer self-monitoring and changes in consumption patterns enabled by smart meters. It is the beginning of a trend that will become much more visible and ubiquitous. Electricity will no longer only be about electrons, it will also involve consumers who are armed with data and systems that enable them in a sector in which they have traditionally had little control.

British Gasvideo offers a picture of what life could be like in a few years as innovation in the energy sector continues to flourish.

Ontario was an early adopter in the use of smart meters, and the world continues to watch as the next wave of consumer-enabling technology is developed and rolled out. The Ontario Ministry of Energy announced the Green Button program in November 2012 and has since been working with MaRS Discovery District, utilities and regulators to make smart meter data easily accessible to consumers.

Enabling innovation through the use of data is happening all over the place. It makes sense for other industries, so why not for energy? Tax services often offer to “maximize your return,” advising that by providing all of your financial data, you can achieve the best possible financial outcome. Why not do the same with energy use and maximize your comfort at the lowest possible energy price?

What if you could save money, get info about your consumption and manage electricity demands?

Manufacturers of electricity-consuming devices are already installing consumption monitoring and communication chips, like those from Toronto’s own MMB Networks, in new appliances and devices to allow communication within the home. Electricity reductions based on time of use don’t appear to provide us with a juicy tax return and customers seem increasingly motivated to do positive things for the environment.

What if we could save some money, receive important timely information and better manage our electricity demands? And what if it were fun? Here are some of the latest innovations in energy monitoring:

  • You can get a text message when your power goes out with the estimated time of restoration through Hydro One’s outage app
  • You can see how your energy consumption compares to that of your neighbours through Zerofootprint‘s apps. 
  • Communities can decide on the best ways to save on their shared energy bills with new ways of aggregating loads enabled by companies like Enbala. Control of street lighting and heating, and decisions on how to reduce the impact of energy consumption in community-shared buildings would be possible with real-time information about shared consumption patterns. 

Consumers will be able to decide what works and does not work for them.

We have seen the availability of data open up a whole range of opportunities in other industries. A few years ago, Toronto-based Goldcorp Inc. published geographical data from the company’s mine in Red Lake, Ontario, on the web, offering a $575,000 prize to the participants who submitted the best method and estimates for extracting gold from the mine. Contestants identified 110 targets, 80% of which resulted in gold.

What can we do with all of that data?

Once all are enrolled, the data transaction of Ontario smart meters on a daily basis will exceed the number of debit transactions completed annually in the country (Smart Metering Entity). With all of the data we have, we can do for energy what Goldcorp did for gold mining in Ontario.

What else can we do with that data? It will also start to be used for planning purposes in other parallel and overlapping sectors, such as transportation and natural gas.

New innovative companies will be entering different aspects of the business, such as information technology and telecom. Rogers will include it with home security offerings, while electricity industry delineations will begin to blur and new partnerships will form—all to the benefit of consumers.

Ontario has a leading customer-connected digital energy system

Ontario is the envy of many jurisdictions that are looking at the same transition to a more customer-connected digital energy system. At least one community-owned and operated utility in Ontario is thinking about how to connect the water, gas and electric consumption data, systems and processes for the benefit of its citizens at the lowest possible cost for the biggest benefit.

We have the smart meters, we have the central data billing system and we have the entrepreneurs, the big industry leaders and the Ontarians. Our consumers are on the cusp of taking full control of their energy consumption.