Article - July 2000
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Energy Information Services 

Bob Fesmire
Energy Interactive

"It's a bit like cable TV subscribers calling their cable company to request Channel X. If enough customers ask for it, the company will eventually start carrying Channel X."

In recent years, the development of Internet-based applications has made possible for the first time the rapid distribution of energy usage data-and the tools to analyze it-to a large number of customers. The trend toward deregulation of energy markets has at the same time turned the attention of many energy providers toward improving customer relationships and delivering a new level of service. The convergence of technology and market necessity has created a number of new energy information services now being offered by utilities.

The Trouble With Data
Interval metered load data is the raw material from which usable information about an organization's energy usage is gleaned, but historically that data has been difficult for customers to obtain, much less analyze. Customers could embark on a potentially very expensive program of installing monitoring devices themselves, or they could go through their utility to obtain consumption data files. Regardless of how the data was obtained, they would still have to pump it through an analytical program that was difficult to use and may or may not have provided the desired analysis.

[an error occurred while processing this directive]This scenario, while frustrating for the customer, was no bargain for the utility either. Load research analysts would spend hours crunching numbers only to provide reports that by the time they reached the customer were not useful for managing ongoing operations. Deregulation brings with it the prospect of a huge increase in the number of customers an energy provider is required to bill on the basis of metered data, which in turn suggests a similar increase in the number of customer requests for usage data. Clearly, a new solution is needed.

Give the People What They Want
Energy Interactive (EI) has for the past four years been in the business of providing energy information products and services to some of the nation's leading utilities. In the course of this work, we've learned that the one thing that most every energy manager wants to see in terms of energy usage information is load profiles. But load profiles on their own aren't really that useful unless you add the ability to generate them for a user-defined set of accounts across a user-defined period of time. Without the ability to aggregate usage data, the online load profile is only slightly better than the request made to load research staff.

This functionality forms the core of EI's Energy Profiler Online™ (EPO), a Web-based energy information service that also provides energy customers with a variety of other analytical tools such as load duration curves, usage history charts, and comparison statistics. By allowing the user to aggregate usage from any combination of accounts and see that usage across any given date range, you give that user the ability to get what they need with a single query instead of an iterative process.

A Two-Pronged Approach
EPO takes the volumes of data that utilities collect and presents it in an intuitive way that addresses the needs of most commercial and industrial energy consumers. For the more sophisticated user, those for whom energy is a major cost component, more in-depth analysis may be required. But rather than burden the majority of users of the online service with unnecessary and potentially confusing functions, this more advanced capability can be provided just to the customers who need it.

EI offers a desktop product that allows users to see the impact of switching rate schedules, moving on-peak usage into off-peak periods, or any of a number of other "what-if" scenarios. Energy Profiler™ for Windows generates estimated bills based on usage data and various pricing parameters so users can evaluate energy choices on the basis of how those choices affect their costs. The Windows software acts as a helper application to the online service whereby users can download their usage data from the Web directly into Energy Profiler. In this way, the online service can fill the needs of most energy customers without carrying the extra baggage of more advanced features provided in the desktop product.

Ask and Ye Shall Receive
Services like EPO are now being offered by a growing number of utilities. Still, many energy providers, even ones doing business in deregulated markets, have been slow to offer these kinds of services to their major customers. Energy consumers, however, can change this. By demanding the power and flexibility that online energy information services offer, they can put pressure on their energy supplier to improve their service. It's a bit like cable TV subscribers calling their cable company to request Channel X. If enough customers ask for it, the company will eventually start carrying Channel X.

This needn't be a losing proposition for the energy provider. Energy Interactive has worked with a number of leading utilities that have implemented online energy information services and offered them to customers on a subscription basis. We've observed that many larger energy consumers are more than willing to pay a modest fee for the service because the potential savings associated with using it far outweigh the cost of the subscription. 

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