Monday, October 21, 2013

A contest for Ontario's Smart Grid Makes the Province look stupid

October 1st;
In partnership with MaRS Discovery District, the Energy Apps for Ontario Challenge is offering $50,000 to support the best new apps that use electricity data collected by smart meters. link
Harmless sounding, but if you are an Ontarian capable of being embarrassed, here's a short review of the history that should embarrass you.
government graphic: spending on "smart" to help you decide on solar panels


Premier Dalton McGuinty makes smart metering a priority (2004):
Right now, most customers don't get a break on their bill if they use energy during off-peak hours when demand is lower. In particular, those off-peak hours range from about 10 o'clock in the evening until 7 o'clock in the morning. The reason they're not getting a break is because old-fashioned energy meters only record how much energy is being used and not when it is being used. Smart meters, together with more flexible pricing, would allow Ontarians to save money if they run appliances in off-peak hours. That's why we are directing the Ontario Energy Board to develop a plan to install smart electricity meters in 800,000 Ontario homes by 2007 and in each and every Ontario home by 2010. 
Lot's of spending ensues.

Today most electricity consumers have a smart meter, and most are now on "time-of-use" pricing.
Prior to the last election, off-peak hours were moved back to 7 pm, so as to exclude the highest demand hours of the day.


Among the recommendations from the report;

Consumers and their designated representatives should have access to timely information on their consumption and the price they are being charged from a smart meter with two-way communication capability or via the internet...
To ensure the widest range of technological choices, entities investing in Ontario’s electricity system and those developing home energy management systems should continue to work with standards organizations, such as IEC, IEEE, Zigbee and Home Plug, to develop and promote open communications standards.
Open standards and the world's most powerful developers.
A promising future for consumer control... but utilities were laying the groundwork to prevent that.


Smart technology refers to components that can communicate, the communication protocols and networks, the servers, the software, the security protocols, the network architecture controlling access.  Our governments seem to lack the technical expertise in information technology and the bureaucratic backbone to face down poor direction.  
The year saw the publication of Modernizing Ontario's Electricity System: Next Steps: Second Report of the Ontario Smart Grid Forum May 2011

Among the recommendations of that report:
The interactions between LDCs and third-party service providers in each area of the smart grid value chain, including support for ...
This was bad - the LDC (local distribution companies) needn't have been involved.  Throughout the world utilities had held the line on owning the data from the meters, and Ontario was no different.  In 2008 the "Meter Data Management and Repository (MDM/R)" became operational, and "only LDCs and their authorized agents have the ability to transmit or request information from the MDM/R."

This wasn't unique to Ontario, and predicaably, in hindsight:

The White House, in September, "challenged the smart grid ecosystem to deliver on the vision of Green Button and provide customers access to their energy usage information electronically. With this information at their fingertips, consumers would be enabled to make more informed decisions about their energy use and, when coupled with opportunities to take action, empowered to actively manage their energy use."


January sees the launch of the U.S. President\s Green Button initiative
March sees the launch of U.S. Apps for Energy contest - building on the green button initiative

The traditional utility controls the data - in Ontario the MDM/R prevents real-time access by customers to the data of customers.

November sees Ontario's Minister of Energy announce a working group to copy the U.S. program, or as the news release put it, "explore an Ontario Green Button initiative that would use innovative smart grid technology."  
Parker Gallant wrote on the announcement; Green Buttons: Cutting Edge Technology or Greening MaRS Discovery District

December sees the publication of Access to Consumer Data: A Vignette, by the Ontario Smart Grid Forum
To date, the Smart Grid Forum has not adopted a single position regarding the Green Button Initiative, though it continues to monitor and, in the case of some of its members, participate in ongoing developments with great interest, including events which are about to unfold here in Ontario...
Shortly after the "vignette" I wrote Whose Meter Is It: Dopey Ontario and Smart Meters


In March I used my hourly data (from Hydro One - downloadable into MS Excel) in writing Lower class treatment for the home unit

In August I attempted downloading my Green Button data - which I did eventually accomplish, but notified Hydro One of some concerns with the usability:
... I've gone from curious about the green button data to curious about why the site is so slow and unstable. From the frequent bot protection pop-ups, it appears offering no functionality is a security feature.
Is that the case?
Within a week Hydro One responded:, "In order to provide you with an accurate response, please provide your property address, meter number and/or Hydro One account number..."

I took that as a yes.

Once I had the green button data, I looked to apps to use it with; there's a long list of U.S. apps at, but the only one I found that would accept my data lead to a primitive display of Mike Tyson boxing for some reason (apparently I was fighting another household - and I did win, but that's all the information I got from the app).

Not that the time was wasted: I  now get coupons e-mail'd to the address from which I sent the inquiry to Hydro One.

September brought the latest publication from the Ontario Smart Grid Forum; Ontario Smart Grid Progress Assessment: A Vignette.
aside: I wonder how much money was spent on consultants in order to arrive at the decision to move from "Reports" to "Vignettes"?

The most remarkable section on the last vignette is "Appendix 2 ‘Smart Grid Success Metrics’ originally proposed by the Ontario Smart Grid Forum Corporate Partners Committee (as published in the Forum’s 2011 report)" - 4 pages stuggling to connect desired measurable success with proof of same, beginning with the "measure":
The percentage of premises capable of receiving information from their smart meter
It isn't clear they understand the answer is essentially 0 - and that the lack of real-time functionality is the reason applications can't be valuable.
A search for the term "value" in the vignette returned 9 instances, none of which are attached to any claim of having provided it.

While the report is nominally about smart grids, it is useful primarily in demonstrating Parkinson's law; Parkinson wrote on the growth of Britain's Colonial Office during the decline of the Empire, and the smart grid forum reports (vignettes?) on the growth of bureaucracy and utility expense during the decline of electricity consumption.


The announcement to replicate, in Ontario, the U.S. app contest from 18 months earlier.
The contest isn't expensive by government terms - just $50,000 (I invite all with the capability to copy the apps at - points may be deducted for originality).

It is expensive due to the partnerships required to acquire the brainpower to copy an ineffectual U.S. program; the announcement was made at Ryerson (been there - during one of its previous world leading innovation periods when it contained the Eaton's School of Retailing), jointly with MaRS (not the planet, devoid of intelligent life).

It can't help the image of Ontario's actual technology industries to have a government that has spent billions on "smart" things only to stupidly copy a U.S. contest in the hopes somebody might present something intelligent. 

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