New revenue streams for utility companies and the rise in importance of customer apps and social networking may not seem like direct drivers for smart meter shipments, but as seen at the recent Energy Thought Summit (ETS) in Austin, Texas, these topics are firmly on the agenda for the metering industry on the evidence of a recent conference.
At this three-day meeting of leaders in energy innovation, a wide variety of topics and themes were discussed -- from the latest technologies coming to the industry, to challenges in pricing and market structures. Thought leaders came together from many different areas of the industry, including computing, regulations, utilities, software, and more.
The general mood at the conference was quite excited and inspired, as a wide variety of attendees and panellists got together to discuss the latest trends in the energy industry. Unlike most energy conferences, which tend to only cover current and near-term problems facing the industry, the focus at ETS was much more about longer-term opportunities and technologies.
Core issues engendered lively discussion, and sometimes even revealed divided opinions among attendees. For example, the problems of having various regulatory bodies in individual states -- often even down to the municipal level -- was discussed, along with the complexities and often counter-productive nature of energy markets.
Beyond these more common discussions, IHS identified three new visions of the future that appeared to be common themes at ETS:
- The possibility for new utility revenue streams
- The need for a “home concierge”
- The development of a “third energy network”
New utility revenue streams
As energy usage gradually dwindles, and as rooftop solar and other distributed renewables become more popular, utilities will eventually need to diversify their offerings to maintain revenue levels. During the conference, EPB Chattanooga explained their novel way of keeping utilities viable in the long term, by offering fiber communications to the home, thus improving their margins and adding value to their services. While this may not be the solution for all utilities, it demonstrates how creative thinking is needed in today’s market.
The need for a “home concierge”
Currently the only times a customer generally interacts with their utility companies is during the initial service set up, and later on if something goes wrong. This lack of ongoing communication creates a dynamic that can be negative for utilities, as it does not allow them to leverage their relationships to potentially market additional services. Further in keeping with the new revenue streams theme discussed at ETS, another potential way to add value was to offer a single point of contact for consumers to set up all their home service needs -- including cable TV, Internet, water and gas -- and also to address any of the customer’s problems or concerns.
The third energy network
The traditional grid is a large network of electrical lines bringing energy from the point of generation to the point of consumption; with the increasing presence of the “smart grid” a second communications network has overlaid this system. Some of the panellists at ETS underscored the importance of a third layer -- the social network -- in the utility of the future. This layer is still developing, as utilities struggle with consumer participation and technical validity; however, there could be a day when social networks directly impact the day-to-day operations of utilities.
IHS Technology provides the most comprehensive research on smart utility meters. We investigate the most important trends, drivers, and challenges affecting the current and future market for metering solutions. To learn more, visit Smart Utility Meter Intelligence Service.