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PG&E Picks 2 Consumer Energy Partners, OPOWER?

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Pacific Gas & Electric hasn’t yet picked partners to help it hook up its millions of smart meter-enabled customers to home energy displays and management gear — but it has picked two companies to help it aggregate, analyze and present energy data to its customers outside of smart meter channels.

Saul Zambrano, director of PG&E’s IDSM core products, dropped that news during a panel discussion Thursday at the Green:Beat conference in Palo Alto. While he didn’t name the two companies involved, he did say that one would be focused on homes, and the other on commercial customers. Based on his description of what the home-facing vendor would be doing, I’d have to guess that partner is OPOWER.

PG&E isn’t ready yet to directly connect smart meters and home area networks (HANs), Zambrano added. That’s because Smart Energy Profile 2.0, the protocol being worked on by the ZigBee, Wi-Fi and HomePlug alliances to standardize that kind of functionality between smart meters and HANs, isn’t ready yet, and probably won’t be ready for commercial deployment until 2012, he said.

Instead, the two unnamed vendors will be using cloud computing to process and analyze all the energy data coming from smart meters, then presenting that information to customers via a variety of portals, which could include PCs in the home, he said.

Zambrano wouldn’t go into more detail on just how these vendors would get their information to utility customers — with good reason, since those details could significantly narrow down the list of potential vendors. In fact, I’m aware of one startup that uses a variety of communications modes — from web displays to paper audits mailed to homeowners — to bring consumers insight into their electric, gas and water meter information.

That’s OPOWER, the Arlington, Va.-based company, formerly known as Positive Energy, that now serves some 37 utilities including AEP, Sacramento Municipal Utility District, Puget Sound Energy and Connexus Energy in Minnesota. The company uses behavioral analysis, as well as technology, in its approach to present information to homeowners in a way that spurs them to compete in energy saving against neighbors. It also uses an opt-out approach that gives it access to a majority of utility customers, rather than waiting for them to opt in to involvement with energy saving.

PG&E has good reason to connect with smart meter-enabled homeowners. It has faced a customer backlash against its smart meters, from customers in Bakersfield, Calif. and elsewhere claiming that the new meters have overcharged them, to groups in Northern California fighting installation of meters on safety grounds.

PG&E does plan to announce its home energy presentment partner soon, Zambrano said, which should clear up any mystery. As for PG&E’s new partner on the commercial customer energy presentment front, Zambrano said he couldn’t discuss any details of that arrangement — in fact, that vendor is, for the time being, taking the tack of keeping that relationship private, he said. Let the speculation begin.

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One Response to “PG&E Picks 2 Consumer Energy Partners, OPOWER?”

  1. Jeff, the Opower business model relies on opt-out engagement with the end customer, but wouldn’t it fall apart with the low levels of participation associated with opt-in schemes? How is the Opower (and others’) model sustainable in light of the following?

    “Utilities should not disclose [consumer-specific energy-usage data] to third parties unless a given consumer has consented to such disclosure affirmatively, through an opt-in process that reflects and records the consumer’s informed consent.” – Key Findings, Department of Energy Report – DATA ACCESS AND PRIVACY ISSUES RELATED TO SMART GRID TECHNOLOGIES – October 5, 2010