Germany’s Yello Strom might be the coolest utility in the world — it’s embraced the intertwining of energy and home broadband connections and is one of the few that manages its smart meter service directly via its customers’ broadband link. That means it can easily offer consumers web-style smart meter applications, including Google’s PowerMeter energy management tool, and potentially a twitter feed of energy consumption.
From Yello Strom’s perspective, leveraging broadband is cheaper than building a new network or renting space on a phone company’s network, and can be more engaging to users because the system can update data faster and offer more compelling consumer services. It’s the future of the energy industry, says Martin Vesper, Yello Strom’s executive director, and customers have to be engaged with the product to change their energy consumption behavior. We’ll see how committed customers are, as Yello Strom only started selling and renting its smart meters seven months ago, but Vesper said it’s selling about 100 to 200 smart meters a day.
The scenario in Yello Strom’s market is very different than the U.S.: Germany’s electricity industry is deregulated (i.e., competitive). In the U.S. (which is largely regulated) smart meters are being rolled out by early moving utilities looking to tap stimulus funds and convince customers to use less electricity, mostly so they don’t have to build more expensive power generation. U.S. customers won’t be choosing whether or not they get a smart meter, and there are little or no fees associated with the technology (sometimes a slight monthly rate hike). So while the smart meter rollout could go much faster in the U.S. than in Yello Strom’s footprint, the customers who buy Yello Strom’s meters have a greater chance of actually changing their energy consumption behavior.