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Data from smart meters is providing electric cooperatives with ways to lower their consumer-members' bills by making their homes more energy-efficient.
“Automated metering infrastructure—or AMI technology—is a great tool for energy audits," said Keith Dennis, NRECA's vice president of consumer member engagement. “Even without visiting the home, good data can help identify problems so co-ops can offer members ways to save money."
With authorized access from the consumer, a co-op energy adviser can look at usage patterns and determine if major systems like HVAC equipment, water heaters and well or irrigation pumps are running normally or are in need of repair.
“A co-op energy adviser can compare your home's energy use to that of a similar-size home, and with information you provide on family size, schedules and lifestyle, they can determine if you are using more energy than a similar household," said Dennis. “If your usage is consistently more than average, perhaps it's time to consider repairs or upgrades to your HVAC system, new windows or insulation or water heater replacement."
While high bills still trigger calls to co-op member services, algorithms can now identify irregular usage spikes.
“We are contacting members with very high energy use identified through our monthly prebill report," said Eddie Plowden, manager of marketing and energy services for Berkeley Electric Cooperative. “Often the cause is heat strips and cooling running simultaneously, or leakage in hot water lines."
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The Moncks Corner, South Carolina-based distribution co-op began transitioning to AMI technology in 2008 and has been fully invested in AMI since 2014. With nearly 100,000 metered accounts, the co-op regularly uses load profiles to spot potential problems.
“We've got the ability to use hourly kilowatt use information and weather to make comparisons with usage patterns over the previous year," said Plowden. “Having that information available for energy audits really enhances the value of the data we can consider in making our recommendations for energy efficiency upgrades."
Asheboro, North Carolina-based Randolph Electric Membership Corp. has identified nearly 100 problems that members were unaware of that were likely impacting their monthly energy costs.
When the co-op suspended onsite audits due to COVID-19 pandemic concerns, the two energy auditors on staff turned their attention to mining AMI data to identify energy-related issues on its 32,000-meter distribution system.
“When we first started, we actually found two well pumps that had been running for over a year," said Michael Trent, director of innovative energy solutions for Randolph EMC.
“We are able to catch these issues early on instead of waiting for the member to call us when they get their power bill," said Trent, adding that the majority of problems are caught within days. “We actually started this before the pandemic, but it really helped with not being able to do home visits for some time."
Co-ops are completing deployment of AMI technology even as their members buy and install more smart devices. That's creating more opportunities for savings and providing consumers proactive controls of their energy use.
“Members can download data and make direct comparisons from one month to the next," Dennis said. “When huge spikes occur, knowing which systems might be at fault can determine when changes and upgrades are needed."
Co-op energy advisers have the expertise to help members determine which improvements could yield the most potential savings and identify other issues, he said.
“We're at the beginning of an evolution that will make AMI data even more useful. Voice-activated home automation devices offer features that can be programmed to place systems into energy efficiency mode, reducing energy use without much active effort or special attention."