It may be 2020, but some big issues have carried over from the last decade at the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, including the question of what the Commission will do to facilitate customer and third-party access to AMI (or “smart meter”) electricity consumption data. As avid followers of the PUCO (all 14 of us) will remember, the state is heading toward near-universal AMI rollout for most of its investor-owned utilities. Accordingly, a key focus of the Commission’s “PowerForward” discussions beginning in 2017 was how to realize customer value from Ohioans’ investment in AMI meters.

The PUCO’s 2018 PowerForward Roadmap ultimately recommended that “standardized access to customer energy usage data (CEUD) for CRES [competitive retail electric service] providers and other third parties should be viewed as a fundamental and core component of the [modern utility] platform,” so that AMI data can “be used to better enable customer choice to inform customers of their energy consumption and costs so they can manage their energy usage, adopt technologies that provide benefits and drive systemic benefits for the grid.”[1] To implement this recommendation, the PUCO created a “Data and Modern Grid Workgroup.” After a series of stakeholder discussions over the course of 2019, the third-party facilitator of the group docketed a final report on December 13, 2019.

The Workgroup report provides the key recommendation that “Green Button Connect My Data . . . should be the methodology for CRES Providers and Third Parties to obtain CEUD for existing and prospective customers.”[2] This would be a significant shift from Ohio’s current landscape, where retail electric suppliers have to obtain customer data through a different web portal for each of the state’s four regulated utilities, and other third-party energy services providers must ask customers to manually provide their usage information. (By comparison, Texas utilities have a central repository for all usage data – Smart Meter Texas – where customers can access their usage data directly or provide authorization for third party access under specific terms and conditions.)

Implementing Green Button Connect My Data would allow significant streamlining of Ohio’s existing processes for obtaining customer consent and accessing energy-related data, including development of APIs for data transfer. That streamlining, in conjunction with appropriate privacy protections, could help realize new value for customers from existing and forthcoming utility investments in AMI. Such a prospect is increasingly salient for Ohio (and nationally) as more business cases emerge for leveraging AMI data – both in retail electric supply itself and as part of third party energy management services that may be able to reach the residential space if the process for authorized access to customer data becomes simpler and less costly.[3]

The PUCO will soon be opening up the Workgroup report for general public comment before issuing any order regarding its recommendations, and some key questions remain:

  1. How much standardization will the Commission require in the interests of market development? Will the PUCO push for a centralized data warehouse like Smart Meter Texas or will Ohio have different “flavors” of Green Button Connect My Data for each utility?
  2. How will the Commission weigh the costs versus benefits of implementing Green Button Connect? Will there be a “chicken and the egg” problem in trying to evaluate potential benefits from this approach before it’s deployed?
  3. What data will be included in the information that customers can consent to sharing with third parties? Beyond usage data, will customers be able to share their account and billing information in order to receive faster and more tailored energy services? Also, what personal information should be off-limits, and why?
  4. And of course: in a state not always known for short PUCO proceedings, will the Commission set a clear timeline and pathway for progress on these issues before this new decade ends?