The consumer benefits of reducing energy consumption include lowering energy bills and positive environmental stewardship. Understanding energy use, however, can be tricky.
Texas is a leader in the use of automated metering, including the availability of a portal for consumers to see their energy use and meter information. To do this, a collaborative effort among the five Texas energy companies called Smart Meter Texas (SMT) was formed. By providing timely access to energy data, SMT enables customers to better manage their energy consumption and save money. A cloud infrastructure is making it possible.
The evolving smart meter portal technology
Smart meters, at their most basic, are electronic devices that record energy use. SMT stores data recorded in 15-minute intervals by smart meters and provides secure portal access to that data for customers and authorized market participants.
SMT is one of the largest smart meter solutions in the country, both in terms of the volume of data collected and processed. All that data creates a very large multi-terabyte database, and we were looking for a partner to host it, maintain it, develop it and support it. We needed to find a company that has strong service lines in all four of those areas.
We sent a request for proposal to 12 companies and quickly narrowed the choices down to three. It became clear that there are only a few companies that could actually do all of the different services we needed proficiently. We chose IBM because of its deep and wide expertise in the utility industry and also because the company is known for its strong hosting and infrastructure capabilities. Also, it was very competitive in the pricing.
We began the project with IBM in 2009 and the first release of SMT launched in January 2010. Every five years we refresh our infrastructure and evaluate whether the solution is providing the functionality required. We had a new release and total infrastructure refresh in 2014 and now we’re looking at our third refresh. The difference in technology since the original 2010 implementation is huge.
With the first release, we envisioned a simple website portal. Now, 10 years later, we have some residential patrons who want to interface with SMT through machine-to-machine technology with Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). We can allow this because part of our solution is running on Skytap on IBM Cloud.
The key things that have been so important to us about SkyTap on IBM Cloud are, first of all, it’s on the cloud. Because the solution is cloud based, we didn’t have to invest as much money as would have been needed to purchase the hardware and servers and all the software and operating systems that go on them. Second, the environment can grow and shrink as we need it, so it’s a lot more cost effective. Lastly, it’s secure, so we’re able to open the staging environment to third-party providers that want to integrate with it.
The changing industry energy landscape
SMT enables consumers to see how much energy they are using at different times of day. Since electricity rates vary during “on peak” or “off peak” hours, people can use the smart meter data to decide how to better manage their electricity usage. Perhaps they will run their electric dryer or charge their electric car only at night. Maybe they will decide to turn their thermostats up or down a few degrees. Maybe they will decide to look at more energy-efficient appliances.
Since the smart meter sends data directly to the utility company, no one needs to come and read a meter.
Additionally, hundreds of nimble competitive service providers have popped up that use the SMT web portal to offer competitive services to help consumers identify the best energy plan, their ideal provider and possible renewable energy alternatives based on their energy use.
This industry ecosystem wouldn’t even have been possible in Texas before SMT.