August 3, 2020
A proposal from the state’s Citizens Utility Board wants to make anonymous data open to third-party researchers.
As utilities begin to collect more data from smart meters, regulators are facing questions about who should have access to the potential treasure trove.
Minnesota regulators took a first step last month toward finding answers by voting to further study how utilities might share more granular data about electricity use without exposing customer privacy or trade secrets. They also endorsed a standard already widely used by building benchmarking programs.
Smart meters wirelessly transmit data about customers’ energy use in 5- to 15-minute increments instead of monthly readings collected by meter readers. All that information opens the possibility for utilities to better manage the grid, but other stakeholders see potential value in the information, as well.
Consumer advocacy groups, for example, might use it to study differences in how various customer types use and pay for power, which might help inform new rate design proposals. Solar or energy efficiency programs could use the data to help identify neighborhoods with the greatest potential for savings.
Minnesota is in the early stages of its transition to smart meters. Not even half of the state’s homes have one, according to a 2019 chart from the Edison Foundation Institute for Electric Innovation. It’s a bit of a mixed bag among Minnesota’s biggest utilities regarding the installation of smart meters, dubbed by the industry as “advanced meter infrastructure.”
Xcel Energy, the state’s largest investor-owned utility, has installed more than 16,000 meters in Minneapolis and the suburb of Eden Prairie as part of a pilot project. The utility plans a broader rollout next year. The generation and transmission cooperative Great River Energy reports 90% have completed smart meter installations and it expects the rest will be completed by 2025. Around 60% of Minnesota Power’s customers have them.
Illinois utilities introduced smart meters years ago. State regulators there passed a data access standard in 2017 after advocacy by the Citizens Utility Board of Illinois and others. Other states in the region that have passed some form of data regulation include Missouri and Wisconsin.
“Part of the reason it makes sense for the [Public Utilities Commission] to begin setting standards around data access now is that Minnesota utilities — primarily electric — are now or will soon be installing smart meters for most residential customers,” said Annie Levenson-Falk, executive director of Minnesota’s Citizens Utility Board.
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