Now Utilities Can Tell Customers How Much Energy Each Appliance Uses (just from the smart meter data)


It must be at least a decade since I first heard the idea of “disaggregating” electric bills. The idea back then was to “listen” for the electric signatures of different appliances and gradually figure out which appliances were using how much power.

Now a variation on this theme is in operation, as you will read in this guest editorial from Salim Popatia of Ecotagious. You’ll have to decide for yourself if it’s good enough in your territory. But I agree with his premise that this level of detail — this ability to see which devices in your home or business are consuming the most electricity — can be a powerful tool and motivator for customers.  

– Jesse Berst


What gets measured gets managed: Taking home energy reports to the next level

by Salim Popatia

The advent of smart meters, like smart phones, was just the beginning.  A phone that allowed you to easily check and respond to email (Blackberry circa 2006) was a ten-fold increase in value as compared to the phones of the past. Today, however, the thought of being able to use a phone only for talking and emailing seems archaic.

What about taking and editing pictures, paying for my coffee, measuring my steps or the tremendous amounts of other value that third party apps have brought to the smart phone?

Soon, the idea of using smart meters to simply tell us how much electricity is being used at any given time will seem similarly archaic. One of the next areas of value comes from taking smart meter data and ‘disaggregating’ it to tell us exactly how customers are using electricity. Do external devices already do this? Sure. Just as progress in the smart phone world reduced the need for external devices (cameras, alarm clocks, radios, pedometers, navigation systems, etc) the ability to get accurate, appliance level feedback, without the need to invest in external hardware, is the next step in the world of smart meters.

Why is this important?

As we all know, what gets measured gets managed. Knowing that I use more electricity than my neighbor, although motivating, unfortunately it’s not necessarily actionable. On the other hand, knowing specifically that I spend more money on electric space heating gives me much more context in which to act. *Studies indicate that the more specific the information, the better the conservation impact. The problem however, is that increased specificity is typically associated with increased cost and lower accessibility.

The idea behind smart meter disaggregation is to get specific information into the hands of the masses, cost effectively. Is more specific information available via external devices? Are better cameras available than what’s on your phone? Yes and yes. The problem is that not everyone is willing to make the investment or go through the trouble of acquiring another device. The next iteration of smart meter disaggregation requires no additional hardware and allows for the detailed breakdown in consumption necessary to help drive conservation.

In a recent pilot, Greater Sudbury Hydro worked with Ecotagious Inc. to test the impact of delivering actionable information and recommendations. They disaggregated their smart meter data and combined it with behavioral science to deliver load specific feedback reports and recommendations to their highest potential customers. The result was impressive at over 4% conservation after just a few months. This could be just the beginning. In addition to conserving energy and saving money, customers were delighted with the initiative as it showed how their new smart meters could work for them.

Utility companies wanting to meet their specific conservation targets to drive customer engagement should ensure they are making the most of their smart meter investment. They can now use the power of smart meter data disaggregation to identify the customers who are most likely to help them reach their specific targets and turn them into willing partners in the drive for energy conservation.

*Electric Power Research Institute: Residential Electricity Use Feedback—A Research Synthesis and Economic Framework

Salim Popatia is the VP of Business Development for Ecotagious, a company that helps utility companies meet their specific demand and energy efficiency targets by using smart meter disaggregation to provide residential customers with appliance level feedback.