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The process of providing electricity to consumers has become increasingly complex, and the changes raise many questions. How should power best be generated and distributed? What is the best way to handle the process from a retail perspective? How should companies make the most of the massive amount of data that is generated by smart electri­city meters?

On May 23, the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ACCJ) Energy and Information, Communications, and Technology Committees co-hosted an event at which Steve Jenks, vice president and country manager of energy manage­ment company Landis+Gyr Japan, and Koichiro Nakagiri, administrative officer and general manager of the Tokyo-based Energy Business Division at KDDI, delved into these issues.

POWER PROBLEMS
As Jenks explained, utilities around the world face three key problems:

  • Financial pressures
  • Increased complexity
  • High expectations

Providers must extend the life cycle of their assets while confronting a decline in sales. Changes to the grid structure, such as prosumers with rooftop photovoltaics selling power back to suppliers, are also creating challenges. And, given the fundamental role electricity plays in daily life, customer expectations are always very high for utilities.

A rise in competition, he pointed out, has also changed the landscape. “Before, if you didn’t like your power company, you were perfectly welcome to sit in the dark. That’s changing now, right? Look at Japan. There are 400 new retailers in Japan. There’s competition everywhere, so how do they change the relationship with the customer?”

ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
Jenks sees several areas in which energy providers can improve their offerings:

  • Intelligent connectivity
  • Distribution intelligence
  • Resource management

Landis+Gyr’s work with Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, Inc. (TEPCO) was highlighted as a case study for reach­ing some of these targets. To ensure that smart meters transmit the necessary data no matter where they are placed, the company instituted multimodal meters that use several wireless protocols. This was part of the reason they were able to achieve impressively timely results for reporting power usage, something that is invaluable to retailers.

“We take a snapshot of the amount of energy consumed on the meter every 30 minutes, and we send it up to the head system in that 30-minute period. We go up all the way into the shared site so that the retailers can download it 30 minutes after that,” Jenks explained. “So, we’ve got an hour from generation of this reading to go all the way up there. Nowhere else in the world does that.”

TEPCO is looking to use similar approaches for reading gas and water meters over their networks. They also plan to employ universal Internet of Things radios to allow for even greater meter connectivity.

ENERGY APP
KDDI’s au Denki brand is among the top-two new entrants into Japan’s energy market and has been able to use data in innovative ways. As Nakagiri explained, au Denki offers customers a multifaceted application. “The app is available for smart­phones, tablets, and computers and can provide our customers with various features such as visualization, analysis, and a gacha [random draw] game. With visualization, customers can see their current bill for that month and also estimations of how much they will spend at the end of the month.

“Customers can also view on a graph how much electricity they have been using up to the day before, showing half-hour intervals in a day,” he added. “So, if somebody back home was using the hairdryer, they’d be able to see when they were doing it.”

Nakagiri said that au Denki is explor­ing the use of artificial intelligence to improve the prediction of energy usage and pointed out that the gamification aspect ties into an associated ecommerce platform, generating a new potential revenue stream.

Down the road, the company will expand its energy mix, Nakagiri predicts. “We expect smaller energy sources such as solar power, wind power, and resi­dential storage batteries will become increasingly popular. Such energy sources surely will be distributed all over Japan.”

Alec Jordan is a staff writer at Custom Media for The ACCJ Journal.
au Denki is exploring the use of artificial intelligence to improve the prediction of energy usage