Utility Prepayment Trends and Consumer Engagement

In some parts of North America, the utility market is becoming increasingly competitive when it comes to the delivery of electricity, gas, water or any combination of the three. Deregulation is one of the main drivers of this, but so are renewable energy sources. In deregulated states, as many as 25% of consumers leave their incumbent utility, switching to competitors for a number of reasons. There is also a movement underway where municipalities negotiate to offer alternative energy choices based on renewable energy sources through Community Choice Aggregation (CCAs).

Faced with these competitive headwinds, consumer engagement is more critical than ever for all utilities. Utility branding, being able to anticipate consumer’s needs and keeping them engaged fosters lasting relationships and loyalty. In addition, Advanced Meter Infrastructure (AMI) coupled with prepayment offers utility consumers flexibility and is one of the most direct customer engagement opportunities available to utilities.

Utilizing prepayment as an additional payment option allows direct consumer engagement for several segments and is a viable option for rental properties, college dorms and vacation homes. Prepayment also provides a way for consumers to address outstanding accounts without the out-of-pocket funding of large deposits, while still having access to affordable energy. Itron’s prepayment solution includes smartphone apps and web portals that offer flexible ways to pay for energy use and provide easy to understand energy usage information, creating happier, more satisfied customers. We are also able to leverage new prepayment capabilities through distributed intelligence applications at the meter. These applications can make the traditional North American AMI prepay solution much more effective and efficient.

Millennials and other environmentally conscience consumers are looking for more options to pay their bills and manage their energy. Making smartphone apps and web portals available allows a utility to provide meaningful energy consumption data that can help the utility’s customers learn about their energy usage and react accordingly, promoting energy efficiency and potentially improving their carbon footprint.

At Itron, we’ve been in the global prepayment market for more than 25 years and in 25 countries. As the newly dedicated North America prepay product manager, I recently spoke at the Prepay Energy Working Group (PEWG) meeting hosted by DEFG about Itron’s solution, with a focus on North America. Contact me at Chris.Germano@itron.com for more information.


Addressing Changes and Empowering Innovation in EMEA

Our industry is facing some big changes—such as new regulatory requirements for water, implementing 100% renewable generation and moving to a carbon-free society—while still addressing today’s challenges to deliver safe, reliable energy, water and city services at lower operating costs.

In the EMEA region – which is made up of Europe, Middle East and Africa – the utility sector is also impacted by what we call the “three Ds”, or rather, decarbonization, decentralization and digitalization.

Decarbonization means a growing renewable sector, leading to more sustainable renewable generation. Which is an exciting next step, however, renewables are highly intermittent – the industry challenge is to manage through those intermittent periods. In regard to decentralization, the reduction in the reliance of large generation plants and the dispersion of generation to smaller plants and renewables such as windfarms, solar biomass or hydro marine generation creates new challenges in how energy is distributed and how to address it. Furthermore, the implementation of new digital technologies to manage, monitor and operate systems in the transmission and distribution of energy and demand creates more efficient and effective data management, but also means companies are moving from hardware and products to service-based solutions.

Water management and the move to smart city technology are also two key areas of focus for EMEA. Due to increasing water scarcity, aging infrastructure and water loss/leaks, efficiently utilizing our most precious resource is more important than ever. Growing cities and urbanization also mean an emphasis on efficient, reliable and safe energy generation and ecosystems, as well as delivering more robust revenue analytics.

As we look to create a more resourceful future, it’s imperative that we factor in these areas to ensure lasting change and a positive outcome for our customers. So how do we plan to tackle these trends?

Join us during Itron Utility Week EMEA, March 16-17, 2021, as we discuss these challenges and more, bringing together industry experts, colleagues and thought leaders to learn from one another, share fresh perspectives and open the door to new solutions by empowering innovation and transforming challenge into opportunity.

Breakout sessions during the virtual event are organized into two tracks: Water Management and Smart City and Utility Solutions. Among the topics that will be covered are:

  • Leveraging multi-purpose networks to enable digital communities;
  • Reducing non-revenue water through leak detection;
  • Quantifying the value and benefits of distributed intelligence;
  • Accelerating electric vehicle adoption through grid analytics and charging management; and
  • Hearing from several city and community experts about how cities are navigating the pandemic and how connected city infrastructure and services can aid recovery.

The event will be offered virtually and at no charge. It will be available in English with subtitles in French, German, Spanish and Italian. Event registration is now open for Itron customers, partners and employees of municipalities, cities and utilities at all levels.

For more information about IUW EMEA: Empowering Innovation, visit www.itron.com/iuwemea.


January 2021: Trends in Estimated Load Impacts of COVID-19 Mitigation Policies on European and North American Electricity Consumption

March 2020 through January 2021

As previously discussed in the first of this blog series on April 13, 2020, as lockdown policies are enacted to help reduce the spread of COVID-19, the Itron Forecasting team is leveraging publicly available hourly load data for most North American Independent System Operators (ISOs) and a select set of European countries to build a picture of the load impacts by region. To assess the load impact of COVID-19 mitigation strategies, actual loads when many of these policies began are compared to baseline loads without COVID-19 policy impacts.

Across Europe and North America, the biggest estimated load reductions occurred in April 2020 with an estimated reduction in average daily load between -12.3% and -7.2%. This instance of the memos extends prior analyses that presents estimates of the load impacts by region, month, and the time of use period by adding pre- and post-hourly load shapes by season. A comparison of the hourly shapes provides a deeper understanding of how power consumption is evolving given current economic conditions and COVID-19 restrictions.

For a detailed summary of the estimated load impacts, go to the forecasting website to download the latest COVID-19 Load Impact memo.

The Itron Forecasting team will continue to post updated summary blogs and corresponding memos on these trends. Subscribe to our blog to be notified of new posts and contact us at forecasting@itron.com if you have further questions.


Bringing Our Premier Customer Event to EMEA

For many years, Itron has collaborated with cities and utilities in Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) to provide innovative, long-term energy and water solutions. I am delighted to announce that we are introducing Itron Utility Week, our premier customer event, to smart city and utility leaders in EMEA for the first time! Hosted virtually from March 16 – 17, 2021, we will bring together industry experts, colleagues and thought leaders to share fresh perspectives and open the door to endless possibilities through innovation.

IUW EMEA 2021 will include peer-led breakout sessions about technology, trends and best practices; insightful keynotes from industry leaders; engaging and thought-provoking panels; and an interactive product showcase of select Itron solutions. Tom Deitrich, Itron’s CEO and president, and Andrew Jones, Itron’s vice president of Sales for EMEA, will kick off the event with an opening keynote. Attendees will then have the opportunity to listen in on tailored breakout sessions, and learn from and have conversations with industry peers and Itron employees who have a firsthand understanding of the issues at play in the sector. Breakout sessions are organized into two tracks: Water Management and Smart City and Utility Solutions. Among the topics that will be covered are:

  • Leveraging multi-purpose networks to enable digital communities;
  • Reducing non-revenue water through leak detection;
  • Quantifying the value and benefits of distributed intelligence;
  • Accelerating electric vehicle adoption through grid analytics and charging management; and
  • Hearing from several city and community experts about how cities are navigating the pandemic and how connected city infrastructure and services can aid recovery.

At IUW EMEA, we look forward to building on our collective success to create a more resourceful world. The event will be offered virtually and at no charge. It will be available in English with subtitles in French, German, Spanish and Italian. Event registration is now open for Itron customers, prospects and partners.

Keep up with latest updates on the event through the Itron blog, and follow Itron and #IUWEMEA on social media.

For more information about IUW EMEA: Empowering Innovation, visit www.itron.com/iuwemea.


Snow Your Enemy

I have lived in New England my entire life. You may be unaware of this fact, but it snows here sometimes.

Snow can be wonderful. As a child, I shoveled my fair share of driveways. I delivered newspapers in the snow. And many times, I walked through a neighbor’s yard and climbed through a hole in the fence to get to a nearby school, which had a perfect hill for sledding.

Notwithstanding those idyllic images, snow creates unique challenges for solar generation forecasting.
There are two broad categories of solar forecasting. The first category is behind-the-meter (BTM) solar generation, which typically consists of rooftop solar panels. BTM has its own set of challenges including lack of visibility into the data itself. In most cases, the amount of energy that is generated, consumed, and/or sent back to the grid is not directly available to grid operators (at the Independent System Operator level) and it may or may not be available to utility distribution system operators. Because the data is often unavailable, the danger is that grid operators may over-commit generation resources on sunny days (when the BTM is generating a lot of power) and under-commit generation resources on cloud days (when the BTM is not generating much power at all).

The second category consists of grid-connected solar plants. In the area where I live, these facilities are often along the sides of highways. The panels tend to be fixed (i.e., they do not track the sun) and they face southward for maximum exposure to the sun as it traverses the southern sky from east to west.

In some cases, the historical generation for these grid-connect solar plants is available to us, along with the system’s total capacity. And, we have access to the useful weather concepts, such as:

  • Drybulb temperature
  • The ambient temperature
  • Cloud cover – the percent of the sky that is covered by clouds, ranging from 0 to 100, where 0 means a totally clear sky and 100 indicates a totally cloudy sky.
  • Solar irradiance – the amount of energy striking a surface on the earth, measured in watts-per-square-meter. The concepts are often Global Horizontal Irradiance (GHI) or Plane of Array (POA). A related concept is the maximum solar irradiance, which can be calculated from the latitude and longitude of a location. This does not account for the presence or absence of clouds, but merely provides the maximum value at the location and time based on a totally clear sky.

We tend to not have data on snow accumulation. Even if we did have that data, I am not sure that it would be especially useful. If you do not live in a snowy region, this may come as a surprise to you – the sky is typically cloudy when snow is falling. That is useful information because the forecast models would perceive a cloudy day and the generation forecast would be lower.

Eventually (and thankfully), the snow stops falling, at which point the sky may become totally clear. The forecast models may then predict a much higher generation forecast. Unfortunately, that forecast is likely to be wrong because of the accumulated snow covering the panels.

I visited a nearby solar array and I took the following photograph a full 24-hours after the snow stopped falling. The sky is essentially clear, but I estimate that these panels are producing exactly 0 kWh of electricity because they are entirely covered with snow. What are the factors that could influence whether the snow melts? Both increasing temperature and clear skies would certainly contribute.

It seems to me that the owners and operators of such facilities would benefit from low-tech solutions to clear the snow. There may be an entirely reasonable explanation as to why these companies do not proactively clear the panels. Maybe there are issues regarding potential damage to the panels? That seems plausible. Maybe it is too expensive and not economically worthwhile? But that seems doubtful.

I submit to you the following figure, which depicts the historical data from a solar plant in New England. I have clipped the energy units from the Y-axis to keep the data anonymous. The figure shows data from Nov. 1, 2020 through Jan. 31, 2021. The most salient point is that the observations in January 2021 barely exceed 0 for weeks, which means they are generating and selling roughly 0 kWh. This is entirely attributable to snow cover.

The days after snow falls create an inherently difficult forecasting problem. We do not know how much snow fell at the actual site of the panels. In fact, we may only have weather data for a station that is miles away. We do not know if the facility clears the panels. Even if the temperature increases sufficiently to melt the snow, we do not know how long that process may take. The temperature may increase sufficiently and then decreases again, thus freezing the partially melted snow.

These are challenging and intractable issues from the perspective of the forecaster. What can we do about this? First, we must adjust our expectations. In snowy regions, we cannot possibly expect to be as accurate in the winter as we are in the summer. Second, we could attempt a ‘persistence model’ which utilizes lagged loads. This will only be useful when real-time data is available, and the accuracy will certainly degrade as we extend into the forecast horizon. Third, we could attempt to code-up some logic regarding the temperature after a snowfall to account for snowmelt, but those relationships are not likely to be sufficiently robust or consistent to provide a useful signal for the model to discern.

Here is the coda to this tale. I visited the same solar array 3-days after the snow stopped falling. I estimate that the panels are roughly 5% clear. In other words, the array looks substantially the same as when I visited 2-days prior.

Snow is to solar panels what kryptonite is to Superman – it takes away all the power.


Summing and Averaging

The Sum function in MetrixND seems like a complex way to make adding difficult.

In a MetrixND transformation, numbers are added by joining variables with the “+” sign. Adding three variables is as simple as writing the following expression in the transformation editor formula box:

DataSource.Variable1 + DataSource.Variable2 + DataSource.Variable3

The complex way to add is using the “Sum” function. This function requires inserting the three variables separated by commas (,) as Sum function parameters, as shown below:

Sum(DataSource.Variable1,DataSource.Variable2,DataSource.Variable3)

Technically speaking, the Sum function requires five extra characters to do the same work as the traditional “+” sign.

So, why does MetrixND include this function?

In the situation where variables have missing values, the calculation using the “+” sign results in a missing value. In other words, a number plus a missing value equals a missing value.

100 + MISSING = MISSING

While the Sum function behaves the same, the Ignore Missing option changes the behavior to produce a value. In other words, the Sum function with the Ignore Missing option selected means that a number plus a missing value equals a number.

100 + MISSING = 100

To activate the Ignore Missing option, check the Ignore Missing box in the transformation editor as shown below.

The Ignore Missing options works with the following functions:

  • Sum
  • Avg
  • Max
  • Min

It doesn’t matter whether you use traditional math operators or the functions when data is complete. However, when the dataset has missing values, the functions and Ignore Missing options may be the difference between forecasting a number and forecasting a MISSING.

Complexity has its purpose.


Itron Named in 2020 Gartner Market Guide for Meter Data Management

As a trusted, proven leader in meter data management (MDM), Itron manages data from more than 45 million meters representing 100+ energy and water companies across six continents. We provide data management outcomes for smart utilities and cities around the globe, while delivering mission-critical data to support applications for meter-to-cash and beyond—all through an enterprise-wide, highly scalable Itron Enterprise Edition (IEE) MDM solution.

Itron is excited to announce that we were recently cited as a Representative Vendor in the Gartner Market Guide for Meter Data Management (login required), which provides insight into the MDM market as well as on MDM solutions providers.

Key findings of the guide include:

  • “Metering has evolved from being just a component of the revenue cycle processing (meter to cash) to an enterprise function that supports multiple core processes such as product innovation, customer management, asset management and commodity management.
  • The meter data management (MDM) market has matured, but solutions continue to be offered by vendors with different legacies (metering, enterprise software, Internet of Things [IoT]).
  • MDM is a vertical version of an IoT platform built specifically for the metering purpose. Consequently, MDM vendors are aspiring to become more generic IoT platform providers, while IoT platform vendors are eyeing the utility market to address vertical metering needs.
  • Access to accurate, low-latency granular consumption data ingested, persisted and disseminated by MDM is critical for utility digital transformation.”

To learn more about our meter data management system (MDMS) for smart utilities and cities around the globe, visit Itron.com.

Market Guide for Meter Data Management, December 2020. Gartner does not endorse any vendor, product or service depicted in its research publications, and does not advise technology users to select only those vendors with the highest ratings or other designation. Gartner research publications consist of the opinions of Gartner’s research organization and should not be construed as statements of fact. Gartner disclaims all warranties, express or implied, with respect to this research, including any warranties of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose.


Challenges in Removing Obstacles on the Path to IoT

Companies such as Cisco, Ericsson and other players have been projecting the exponential expansion of connected IoT devices for years. From the first connected device in 1990 (a toaster connected by TCP/IP) to 26 billion connected devices in 2019, technologies for communication and connectivity continue to evolve. However, with expansion comes the challenge of growth.

With standards-based code embedded on the modules and with the use of common data objects, Itron Idea Labs is working with IOTEROP, a company offering IoT device management solutions, to promote a common architecture from device to cloud so every device developer and every IoT solution designer can enjoy an accelerated path to deployment.

On Jan. 19, I was able to join a panel of IoT experts as part of the Cellular IoT for Smart Cities webinar to discuss how Itron Idea Labs is collaborating with IOTEROP and others to surgically remove obstacles and enable the IoT explosion.

During the panel, device management was the first obstacle to be addressed. Panelist Matt Hatton of Transforma pointed out the need for no touch provisioning in use cases where a city or service provider has millions of sensors spread out in a diverse geographic area. Imagine a router upgrade in your own home. Your televisions, both laptops, the tablets, gaming devices, everybody’s phone, the doorbell and who knows what else will need to be provisioned to reconnect with the IoT - and that’s just a single home. Hence the need for a truly scalable, truly no-touch process for device manufacturers, application developers, businesses and cities. Stephen Lurie, a panelist from IOTEROP, pointed out that Itron understands the need for device management that scales from “a business or human or processes standpoint.”

Another obstacle raised by the panel was data exchange. Envision a city with multiple departments all gathering data in their own way. Sharing that data among departments and with organizations outside the city can be crucial to enabling essential use cases. To address this challenge, the key is standards! And Itron is engaged with standards organizations who are making a difference. As an example, I described Itron’s work to define common functions and processes using a public repository of data objects with defined attributes (OMA ISPO objects). Using the LwM2M standard and the work done by the OMA Specworks organization, a public repository of data objects with their attributes is now available. IoT solution developers can align around open standards and standardized data models, working within this framework to ensure their data collection adheres to standards that will enable sharing.

A third obstacle to IoT explosion was the fact that security is an ever-moving target. Hatton mentioned the need for over-the-air firmware updates to ensure that IoT devices stay current. For this example, I described our work with module makers (Quectel, Ublox, Sequans, Sierra, Nordic, etc.) to ensure the ability to embed a full IP stack with keys, protocols and secure firmware extensions. This built-in stack on the module becomes a foundation for a device developer, reducing the expertise needed in underlying protocols and allowing developers to focus on building their solution. This architecture promotes a single SKU that works anywhere in world, delivering a global footprint with the added benefit of reducing the attack area on each device.

Itron’s decades-long experience deploying Industrial IoT devices in the field helps us bring standards, security and scalability together for our industry and the developer community, and the evolving landscape changes from an intimidating maze to a well-lit, clearly marked pathway for deployment and adoption of IoT solutions.

View a recording of the Cellular IoT for Smart City: An Evolving Landscape panel, with my presentation visible at minute 34.


Itron Named in Gartner Emerging Technologies Report

Itron’s distributed intelligence applications, delivered in conjunction with our industrial IoT network, enable new and innovative approaches to solving critical challenges facing the world’s power grids and transforming utility consumer engagement. Distributed intelligence applications provide significant improvements to outage detection and analysis, distribution connectivity modeling, fault detection, theft detection, transformer load management, renewables integration, EV integration and multiple innovative consumer services.

We were recently recognized in a Gartner report, Emerging Technologies: Top Edge AI Use Cases for Asset and Operational Intelligence (login required to view). This edge AI case-based research revealed emerging use cases in asset and operational intelligence. Across industries, edge AI is used to deliver cost savings and operational control.

Key findings of the report include:

  • “Organizations are implementing asset intelligence use cases to reduce assets’ total cost of ownership (TCO) through improved asset management strategies and practices.
  • Operational intelligence solutions are adopted by manufacturers, transportation and other asset intensive industries seeking real-time, localized control of business operations.
  • The expansion of Internet of Things (IoT) infrastructure, such as smart meters, in utility networks is creating opportunities for edge AI to deliver reliable services.”

According to the report, “Edge AI for utility networks, operations and asset management is an emerging use case that is being shaped by the installation of smart meters and the demand for real-time, location-specific insights into operations. Smart meters, for gas, electricity or water, coupled with an edge server, can deliver analytical insights and predictions for numerous business processes, such as automated meter reading for billing, load/demand forecasting, distribution asset planning and design, and network operation. Edge AI can deliver operational efficiencies and cost savings, asset performance, and financial benefits to utility companies.”

To learn more about our distributed intelligence applications, visit Itron.com.

Emerging Technologies: Top Edge AI Use Cases for Asset and Operational Intelligence, January 2021. Gartner does not endorse any vendor, product or service depicted in its research publications, and does not advise technology users to select only those vendors with the highest ratings or other designation. Gartner research publications consist of the opinions of Gartner’s research organization and should not be construed as statements of fact. Gartner disclaims all warranties, express or implied, with respect to this research, including any warranties of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose.


Trends in Estimated Load Impacts of COVID-19 Mitigation Policies on European and North American Electricity Consumption

March through December 2020

As previously discussed in the first of this blog series on April 13, 2020, as lockdown policies are enacted to help reduce the spread of COVID-19, the Itron Forecasting Team is leveraging publicly available hourly load data for most North American Independent System Operators (ISOs) and a select set of European countries to build a picture of the load impacts by region. To assess the load impact of COVID-19 mitigation strategies, actual loads when many of these policies began are compared to baseline loads without COVID-19 policy impacts.

Across Europe and North America, the biggest estimated load reductions occurred in April with an estimated reduction in average daily load between -12.3% and -7.2%. In both Europe and North America, December loads ran lower than expected although the impact more than likely reflects a net load reduction associated with the winter holiday season.

For a detailed summary of the estimated load impacts, go to the forecasting website to download the latest COVID-19 Load Impact memo.

The Itron Forecasting Team will continue to post updated summary blogs and corresponding memos on these trends.

Subscribe to our blog to be notified of new posts and contact us at forecasting@itron.com if you have further questions.


Survey Reveals How Cities and Utilities Are Prioritizing Technology to Address Present and Future Challenges

U.S. cities and utilities continue to adapt to pressing issues, such as aging infrastructure, natural disasters and the growing desire to incorporate renewables. Now, more than ever, cities and utilities have the opportunity to find new ways to innovate and demonstrate resiliency through technology. Deploying connected technology will be critical for utilities and cities to optimize their existing infrastructure to reliably deliver energy and water in the face of uncertainty, while fostering a more resourceful and sustainable world.

To find out how cities and utilities are addressing present and future challenges with advanced technologies, we conducted an informal survey during Itron Utility Week (IUW) 2020 and on social media about utilities’ and cities’ investment priorities. According to respondents, the three most important investment areas for cities and utilities are AMI/networks/smart meters, data analytics and customer engagement technology. The survey showed that over the past 12 months, cities and utilities have invested in AMI/networks/smart meters and data analytics, first and foremost. Looking to the future, utilities and cities said that customer engagement technology is an investment priority in the next 12 months.

AMI/Networks/Smart Meters
At Itron, we are seeing our customers benefit from intelligent connectivity during the current shift to remote work. Employing modern communication networks enables faster, more responsive grids and improved data-driven decision making through capabilities like distributed intelligence. Remote meter reading via a network simplifies data collection and field operations – which is proving its value with a distributed workforce.

Data Analytics
The second most important area of investment comes as no surprise as we are seeing utilities realize the importance of data analytics and automating data collection to improve their operations. Leveraging analytics can transform the way utilities see customer demand patterns and provide access to critical data for infrastructure planning. Data analytics allows utilities to deliver consistent and reliable energy and restore service quickly and efficiently.

Customer Engagement Technology
Going forward, customer engagement technology is a priority area for utilities and cities. It’s clear that technologies such as smart thermostats provide a value-added service to customers as well as demand response capacity. Investing in technology to improve customer satisfaction enables customers to proactively optimize energy/water usage and meaningfully interact with utilities.

Looking Ahead
Through our informal survey, we uncovered top technology investment priorities of utilities and cities to address present and future challenges. Through the work we do every day, we see that even during a difficult year, utilities and cities are rising to the occasion and exploring opportunities to deploy innovative technologies — safely, reliably and efficiently.


Customer Training Available Throughout 2021

Last year, Itron launched several virtual, instructor-led training sessions for our customers. These were well received, and as a result, we are excited to continue these offerings into 2021.

Our trainings are aimed at personnel responsible for various customer functions, including, but not limited to administration, back office, installation and configuration. We also welcome anyone who wants to learn more about our products to register for a training session.

These classes are led by Itron’s technical trainers and are hosted virtually via a web conferencing tool (e.g., Microsoft Teams or Webex). Costs vary by course and are based on whether you register for an entire course versus taking modules a la carte.

Check out the links below for more detail, including class descriptions, dates, times, cost and how to register:

I hope you will join us as we look to make 2021 a year of learning!


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