Info & Answers
New Bill to Ease Way for Smart Grid Services?
Proposed legislation gives consumers rights to electricity usage information.
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June 02, 2011 by Steven Castle

The Electric Consumer Right to Know Act (also known as e-KNOW), introduced last week in the U.S. Senate, is being hailed by some as a building block to achieving a more efficient smart grid.

The bill would give consumers greater access to their electric usage information in real time and improve their ability to manage their energy use with devices like housewide energy management systems that can help lower their utility bills.

The proposed legislation may also help prevent angry consumer backlash to smart grid rollouts by utilities such as ones in Northern California and Texas in the previous year.

The bill was sponsored by Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) and co-sponsored by Scott Brown (R-MA). It is supported by the Demand Response and Smart Grid Coalition (DRSG), a trade association for companies that provide smart grid products and services, including CABA, Cisco, Comverge, Control4, Echelon, eMeter, EnOcean Alliance, GE, Google, HomeGrid Forum, Honeywell, Ingersoll Rand, Intel, Johnson Controls, Lockheed Martin, Lutron Electronics, Oracle, Schneider Electric, Siemens, Silver Spring Networks, Tendril, Universal Powerline Association, Whirlpool and ZigBee Alliance.

The e-Know bill would give consumers the right to authorize access to their usage data by companies that facilitate home energy efficiency. Consumers would also be able to access information directly from home energy management systems and other energy-management products, independent of the utility’s electric meter. Also, the legislation would ensure that the right to consumer-data access is technology neutral, allowing consumers to choose how they get and use their consumption information.

Laying the Groundwork

But … er … isn’t getting information on your home’s energy usage part of what the smart grid is supposed to be all about? Isn’t all of this supposed to happen anyway?

According to a press release on Udall’s web site, during the senator’s Colorado Energy Jobs Summit last year, a consumer noted that even though he had a smart meter, his power company wouldn’t let him access his own meter readings.  Udall crafted the Electric Consumer Right to Know Act to ensure that consumers can get timely access to the information on their electrical meters.

The bill, however, is not aimed specifically at bringing electric utilities in line with providing smart grid services, says James Anderson, vice president of Smart Grid and Demand Management for Schneider Electric’s Energy Business.

“This bill really updates the older public utility regulations out there since the 1970s,” he says. “It clarifies more than anything else. There still is a lot of questioning around the ownerships of [electricity usage data]. That’s a hot topic.”

Anderson says the bill contains two main elements for consumers: having access to their electricity usage data and having security around it. “The bill sets out a clear perspective around the consumer having rights around accessing that information and gives a clear direction,” he says.

Anderson believes the bill has a strong chance at passage, and he doesn’t expect push-back from electric utilities, many of which he reminds are involved in pilot programs that provide consumers with such information.

Creating Awareness

Anderson says the e-Know bill, updated form a previous version introduced in 2010, is just one part of many policies that should be put into place to ensure a bright energy future for the United States.
As much as utilities need guidance with these issues, some work has to be done to educate consumers about the benefits of the smart grid, Anderson says.

“Electricity is one of the last areas where consumers get essentially no information about their purchases,” said Tim Enwall, Executive Vice-President of Tendril and Chairman of DRSG. “That makes no sense, especially as the smart grid becomes a reality. One of the key ways that the smart grid will be put into action is by putting new information into the hands of consumers that will, among other things, give them feedback on the energy-reducing steps they take. After all, how can we expect consumers to manage what they can’t measure.”

It’s Gonna Be Complicated

The e-Know bill could also help provide an overall framework for what promises to be a patchwork of regional and local regulations regarding smart grid rollouts and how electric utilities implement them. Along with these regional differences, we are likely to see a patchwork of technologies for collecting, sending and protecting data over power distribution and home area networks.

Once more utilities introduce dynamic pricing such as time of use rates, where rates can change by the hour, there will be many ways to manipulate and manage that data. “It’s going to be complicated,” Anderson says.

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Steven Castle - Contributing Writer
Steven Castle is Electronic House's managing editor. he has been writing about consumer electronics, homes and energy efficiency topics for two decades. He is also the co-founder of GreenTech Advocates.

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