Gary Bloom Q&A: The Search-and-Rescue CEO Who Just Sold eMeter to Siemens

12/6/11Follow @wroush

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the lack of centralized data. Utilities would be much more successful service delivery platforms if they had more information about consumers and how they consume electricity and how their systems work. The reality is that they have no data.

In the healthcare world, I can get more information about your dog than I can get about your child, because the dog has a microchip in him, but if it’s a child, I don’t even know who they are. The utility sector has been running just as blind. They don’t have enough information to run their businesses efficiently, engage with customers, and know what to change. When you get smart meters, you get much better information. Instead of knowing what customers do every month when the meter reader comes out, you can know every 15 minutes.

Now the question is, once I have that data, what do I do with it? Can I reduce truck rolls? Can I get ahead of an outage? Why not send people an alert saying ‘Your power is out at home, it’s 120 degrees out, why don’t you stay at work?’

X: How does eMeter help with that?

GB: What we do is provide that information platform. Our competitors just replace the meter reader with an e-meter. We say it’s about collecting a vast amount of data in order to operate differently. It’s like the difference between Sears Roebuck and Amazon. Sears put up a website where you could put in the order number and go to the store and pick it up. Amazon came along and collected a lot of data about what you searched for and bought and clicked on, and they did a ton of marketing analysis around that, so that now they can say that if you are buying a new high-definition TV, you should also buy HDMI cables. Roll that forward 10 years, and Sears is closing their stores and Amazon is the biggest e-retailer in the world.

The parallel for the smart grid is that it’s hard to get the benefit [of e-meters] if all you are doing is collecting the data. We enable utilities to improve operational efficiency. We give them a Web portal that they can launch to their customers where they can manage their energy, water, gas, and other utility services. Right now people don’t get enough information to have any clue why they have the big bill they have. But over time, with global warming, most of the population is going to want to increase their energy literacy.

X: The rollout of smart meter technology in California has been pretty slow and very controversial. There are concerns about overbilling by Pacific Gas & Electric, and lots of people demanding the right to opt out of the whole smart-meter system. What’s going on?

GB: There is a tremendous amount of data coming from this advanced metering infrastructure, but you need a platform to make sense out of that data. The meters are pretty fragile; like any technology, it’s going to take a while to mature and stabilize. PG&E may say that they have no meters not reporting. Then a month later they say they have 20,000 meters not reporting but there’s no overbilling. And then in a third announcement they say, ‘Well, we have some overbilling.’

The reason is that they don’t know which meters are reporting. They are not analyzing the data. They didn’t put it in a form where [customers] could do something with it. What you really want to know is, what am I consuming and when? How does it relate to the weather and my own living patterns? At eMeter we have gotten our customers past the issue of stability, and they are now leveraging that information for customer engagement.

CenterPoint Energy down in Texas is saving millions of dollars just on truck rolls by being able to remotely connect and disconnect and know that the meters are operating properly. When the customer calls, do you know why? Is the power out, or do they just have a bad meter? The difference between a CenterPoint and a PG&E is that [CenterPoint is] acting on the information.

X: Despite the name, eMeter doesn’t make actual smart meters, right? You just make the software that utilities can use to analyze e-meter data.

GB: We don’t do hardware, we don’t do meters. We have no hardware agenda at all. We have an architecture that lets us integrate with all meters and with anything you want to do with the data, any billing or customer system or ERP [enterprise resource planning software].

X: What were your main challenges when you came to eMeter?

GB: We were in a situation at the time I got here where we were delivering the best software solution in the space but we weren’t a mature enterprise software company. In my time here we have tried to create a two-headed monster and complement the utility people with enterprise software experience. The product was robust, but to be a successful enterprise software company you need to know how to … Next Page »

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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