Consumers today are looking for personalized engagement — the one-size-fits-all approach is no longer sufficient. In the energy sector, we’ve seen everything from the rise of smart thermostats to increased interest in purchasing renewable electricity. We are also witnessing the rise of distributed energy resources (DER), with consumers increasingly generating, storing and managing their own electricity.

As consumer expectations begin to shift, utility companies are simultaneously facing a number of additional industry changes. This ranges from the need to boost grid resiliency to meet the challenges of extreme weather and cyberattacks, overcome grid complexity from distributed energy resources (e.g. EV) and reach important sustainability goals. The combination of these forces has made the need for a more modern, digital grid abundantly clear. That is where distributed intelligence (DI) —a key component of next-generation advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) —comes into play.

Distributed intelligence – a key component of a modern, digital grid

Distributed intelligence is possible when computer-like processing capabilities are embedded in meters at the edge of the utility grid. It moves analysis, decision making and action to the edge of the utility grid, closest to where the problems occur, and where solutions and opportunities can be realized. It’s a key value differentiator enabled by intelligent connectivity.

In fact, Zpryme and Itron surveyed over 75 utilities in 2020 to better understand utility strategies around distributed intelligence and found that 70% of respondents report that grid edge technology is critical to their utility’s future. In addition, 59% said they are already using customer-generated power and behind-the-meter energy efficiency as part of their integrated resource planes.

Yet, how does DI technology assist with evolving customer expectations? It provides utility companies with the ability to collect and disseminate information around how energy is being used and consumed. And in turn, consumers get a “look under the hood” and direct access to data that details how much and what products are consuming the most energy.

It’s important to note that consumers had access to this data with previous AMI technologies, but dedicated and proprietary radios—known as a “ZigBee gateway” hardware device—were needed. Now with next-generation AMI, all that is needed is a WiFi connection and an existing computer, tablet or smartphone to access energy information, time-of-use rates and appliance-level data.

Data is creating a new marketplace and encouraging innovation

To ensure data being produced can be used for the greatest benefit, it is crucial that utility DI platforms are built on standards and support integration of an ecosystem of third-party products. This ultimately allows authorized third parties to create new solutions and services based on up-to-date information collected by utilities.

Consumer energy services are a prime example of the advanced services that utilities and third-party providers can offer when data is made available. For example, consider solar energy companies that install solar panels on peoples’ houses in return for tax credits, EV charging companies that provide public charging stations and smart device providers that provide consumer energy management and education services.

In addition to new services, consumers are interested in programs offered directly from utility companies that can help them save money, curtail energy consumption and obtain actionable insight. Appliance-Level Insight, for example, can be used to highlight the need for maintenance or replacement of an appliance based on energy use spikes, while activity in the home can notify residents when someone is in the home utilizing noncyclical load usage. Another use case is TOU/Peak alerts, which notify homeowners if high-usage appliances are active during peak price periods and the approximate savings that could be achieved if use of the appliances are reduced.

Interested in learning more about DI and other topics impacting the industry? Check out Itron Inspire 2021

While evolving customer expectations is just one of the many changes utilities need to contend with, distributed intelligence is making it easier to adapt and find new opportunities for growth. If you are interested in learning more about how to embrace DI and other technologies to create a better connected, sustainable and resourceful future, we invite you to attend Itron’s customer-focused event, Itron Inspire 2021.

Itron Inspire 2021 will take place virtually Oct. 4-6, gathering leaders from across energy, water, industrial IoT and smart communities to share perspectives and best practices to drive the industry forward. It will feature insightful keynotes, big picture sessions and breakout discussion. Sessions will discuss topics ranging from decarbonization, cybersecurity to addressing urgent grid challenges. Check out the full list of topics and register to attend here.