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ComEd closely guarding smart meter data

These companies want your energy data.

If you're one of the approximately 425,000 people in Commonwealth Edison's service territory with a newly installed smart meter, a cadre of companies is lining up for the energy data relayed by that meter. Their businesses would help people cut their bills, become more energy efficient, and even sell excess power back to the utility.

There's just one problem: Regulators are hashing out who owns that data — customers or utilities — and how the data would be released.

Until that determination is made, ComEd is staunchly guarding that data, refusing to release any of that information to third-party companies other than its own vendors and making it difficult for consumers to get the information.

ComEd's position seems counter to what the utility promised in promoting smart meters as part of a $2.6 billion grid-modernization project.

In paying for smart meters, consumers were promised more control over their energy, environmental groups were promised that energy savings would mean fewer power plants polluting the air, and legislators were promised the creation of tech jobs. The smart meters ultimately will be installed at 4 million locations in the area served by ComEd, a subsidiary of Chicago-based Exelon Corp.

The fact that there is no clarity over who owns the data also doesn't help the city of Chicago's requirement that large buildings disclose their energy consumption.

Myrna Coronado-Brookover, a senior vice president and general manager of 77 West Wacker Drive for JLL — it formerly was known as Jones Lang LaSalle — said that even getting forms from ComEd to obtain information has proved impossible.

She wants to contract with an outside company, Lucid, to make a "dashboard" for her building's tenants that shows energy consumption in real time to encourage them to be more energy efficient.

"A lot of these firms in this building, they don't even see their electricity bill," Coronado-Brookover said. "Their bill goes to some other corporate office in some other state and someone pays it. Can you imagine if you were just educated on the small thing you could do every day and what that could do when multiplied across hundreds of employees?"

Lucid told Coronado-Brookover that it needed access to the building tenants' energy-use data. She went to ComEd, which told her that the building's tenants would have to fill out permission forms to access that information.

"I said, 'OK, can you provide that form?' (ComEd) said, 'Well, the form doesn't exist.'"

Coronado-Brookover said she finally collected that information from the building's physical electric meters.

Consumers who want to share their electric-use data with an outside company have to go to a lot of effort.

"You can't just say, 'I authorize this person to have my data,'" said Andrew Barbeau, a consultant with the Environmental Defense Fund and president of The Accelerate Group, a consultancy in Chicago. "You have to go get (the data) yourself and email it to (third-party companies). That's not going to drive consumer adoption."

Barbeau said consumer data advocates who are pushing for greater access would like to see Illinois improve on a model called "Green Button" that's being used in California at Pacific Gas and Electric and San Diego Gas & Electric. With a simple login, customers can move data in a standard format, to whomever they like.

A growing number of local startups that see business opportunities in helping consumers become more energy savvy say authorization for accessing energy data should be as simple as pushing a "yes" or "no" button, in much the same way consumers allow Facebook or Twitter to connect to applications on their smartphones.

Last month, the Citizens Utility Board and Environmental Defense Fund filed a proposed framework with regulators that would give customers the right to automatically receive detailed energy-use data and share that data seamlessly.

"We want a consumer bill of rights," said David Kolata, the utility board's executive director. "We think consumers own that data. We want the rules to be clear and for the customer to be able to control the data and move it effortlessly and seamlessly."

Kolata said there is an emerging tech space in Illinois surrounding the smart grid.

"There's all kinds of interesting apps and programs that are being developed. But all of them in one way, shape or form require data to be effective. It's much harder than it should be."

Some startups in Chicago said that without being able to easily access consumer data, they'll fail.

"We have to get access to the data of thousands of customers in a relatively short period of time or our cost of acquisition goes through the roof," said Mark Handy, chief executive of Kenjiva Energy Systems in Chicago.

His business model would pinpoint the most congested parts of the electricity grid and pay consumers in those areas to power down.

Handy's company has been working with municipalities and state-funded organizations that could ask electricity customers to sign on in bulk, but Handy said if those consumers are asked to do anything more complicated than clicking a single button, it likely won't work.

"We're small, we're nimble, and we want to be able to capture this opportunity. But if it takes 18 months to get enough people to sign the form, we've lost our edge here," Handy said.

jwernau@tribune.com

Twitter @littlewern

Some of the companies that want your smart meter data

Here are some of the companies lining up to put your smart meter data to use:

Agentis Energy: The commercial and industrial energy efficiency company uses data to reduce the cost and consumption of electricity. Collaborative tools encourage companywide participation in energy savings. Businesses can track progress and compare themselves against similar businesses.

Intelligent Generation: Specializes in providing solar panels and battery storage to residences. Its software determines the best times to use stored energy generated by solar panels or to sell excess energy back to the electricity grid.

Effortless Energy: This energy efficiency company pays for energy-efficient upgrades and splits the savings with consumers.

SilverSpring Networks: Manages the communication network for Commonwealth Edison's smart meters.

C3 Energy: Offers a software portal to provide customers with access to their electricity-consumption data and provides recommendations for being more energy efficient, customized to their home and patterns. Also the company behind CUB Energy Saver (cubenergysaver.com), which automatically links to a customer's ComEd bill to track savings, rewards energy savvy with points redeemable for gift certificates, and lets customers compete against their neighborhood and friends.

Schneider Electric: Makes smart thermostats that allow customers to better manage their residential energy use. The thermostats tie into smart meters to reduce air conditioning at pre-defined set points when the price of electricity is high. The thermostats can also be connected with outside services.

Bidgely: Disaggregates meter data, meaning it uses algorithms to show how much energy specific appliances are using, when they are running, and whether those appliances are efficient or inefficient.

QCoefficient: Ties into commercial building HVAC systems to improve tenant comfort, reduce energy costs, and enable buildings to participate in programs that pay buildings for dialing back electricity when demand on the electric grid is greatest. (See also: BuildingIQ)

Ohmconnect: Pays consumers (through rewards points) for agreeing to reduce their consumption during periods of high demand on the grid. They connect with smart thermostats, smart lighting and smart electric-vehicle chargers to schedule them together to reduce consumption. (See also: EnergyHub. It similarly works with smart devices in a home, paying homeowners to cut their electricity consumption during periods of high demand.)

SolarCity: Uses meter data to figure out how much solar a house needs based on its size and energy use.

Lucid: Provides data analysis to commercial buildings, helping landlords provide dashboards to tenants to encourage them to be more efficient.

Google: Owner of Nest thermostat, which learns a resident's schedule and programs itself. To avoid high electricity prices, Nest might raise the temperature when residents are away during the afternoon or cool a home before high electric prices are expected. Google will suggest changes in behavior based upon residential energy consumption. Eventually will help automate the home.

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