Dr. Stephanie Pincetl and Dr. Erik Porse authored this week’s post on the Urbanization and Global Environmental Change (UGEC) project blog, Viewpoints.
In the United States, the 20th century was the era of utilities. In an effort to promote equal access to electricity and water services across a majority rural population, governments granted state-sanctioned monopolies to utilities to ensure equal access to these growing necessities. The relationship was simple. Your address determined your utility, which will bill you monthly for electricity, oil, water, or other services. In return for guaranteed service, utilities received a stable rate of return on their investments. The nuances of system operations, including who used resources where, were obtuse and only known by a handful of technical and policy experts charged with ensuring reliable services.
Today, however, infrastructure systems are changing. In the energy sector, rooftop solar, energy storage, and microgrids are all disrupting the established utility model. A critical component to this revolution is data. While utilities bill customers for electricity and natural gas use, the data is rarely disclosed publicly. A few cities such as Gainesville, Florida and Madison, Wisconsin have fought to open access to such data, but the vast majority of localities have limited access to energy consumption data. Utilities typically do not publicly reveal high detail energy consumption, citing privacy concerns. Available data lies at the heart of an energy system revolution that may leave 20th century public utilities behind.
The full blog post is available here.