Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Meralco: Innovating to Empower

Who ever thought utilities could ever be exciting? 

During my corporate life years back, discussions about electricity had always been a little over my head although for a while, I was knee-deep in power discussions (financial and legal) because my employer had a joint venture with an American power company to put up a diesel power plant on a build-operate-transfer (BOT) arrangement and I was one of those in the front line. When people discussed the computations to arrive at the charge to consumers per kilowatt hour, I tended to tune out often. Talking electricity was not exactly the most exciting topic I could think of.

But a few days ago, a handful of us bloggers were invited to come see how Meralco was innovating, using available technology to empower its consumers and shape a world-class standard of living. We got a glimpse of what they are looking into to employ digital technology and incorporate it into home living.

As a consumer of electricity, walk through these possibilities with me and see which ones you'd like to see Meralco introduce soon to your home.

Innovation #1: Meralco's Current Distribution Automation

Think of this situation. A power outage suddenly occurs somewhere in Meralco's web of grids. In real-time, using information on their screen, they are able to pinpoint the source of the outage, shut down that malfunctioning grid, and even re-route power, if needed. The red and green icons on the screen reflect where the grids are closed or open. With these equipment, Meralco can monitor and control distribution systems from remote locations, including the overall health of the electric grid. All in real time.

They are now looking into other innovations that may be introduced to consumers. These innovations try to take advantage of existing and developing technologies to empower the consumer to manage his own energy consumption by making this information accessible even when the consumer is away from home.
I know that in North America, in particular, many green homes are already equipped with these technologies. Let's take a look at some innovations.

Innovation #2: The Smart Meter

Think prepaid load. If it can be done with mobile phones, why not power? If you can top up your phone via SMS, it can now be done for electricity as well. Here's how it works:

The lighted meter has load while the unlighted one does not.

Software allows you to monitor your usage and load

A light's energy consumption reflects on this devic

Simply send out an SMS indicating how much you want to top up. 
When you're done, this is the confirmation you see on your phone

Innovation #3: The Energy Management Portal

Imagine that now, you can have a device in your home that is able to check your energy consumption (by room or per appliance), compare your consumption to a previous month or previous year -- all in real time. Via an energy management portal on a computer, you can analyze your consumption so you can turn appliances on and off to meet your power budget.

Illustration of what a smart home could look like

From your device, monitor your energy consumption timeline...

...and your utility consumption -- in real-time

Innovation #4: The Smart Home

Here's what a future smart home would look like. Add a "smart plug" to your TV, DVD player, ref or any other appliance and you can program it to switch on and off. Use your computer at home or when you're away, use your phone or tablet to manage which devices at home turn on and off. All in real-time.

The demo below showed that with the device, you can actually set an electrical budget, say for a month. And by means of the software, lights and other pre-programmed devices can be turned off when it nears your electric budget.

Innovation #5: The Home Area Network

The prospect of a home totally controlled with the flick of a remote control was quite fascinating as I spoke with the people from Cisco. They walked us through different ways you could control your home in terms of security, entertainment and energy remotely. Your handheld device, whether it is an iPad, iPhone, Androids, etc can be transformed into control devices.

The pictures below show that by attaching a security camera (the one above costs around P800 only) to your gate or front door (or wherever you please), combined with the right software, you can actually see who is ringing your doorbell. Some security cams can be made to move around to give you a wider view. With a special door lock (they said it costs around P8,000 at hardware stores), you can open/close the door with your handheld, manually input a code to open it, or use an actual key to open the door.

The same software, via your handheld, can also act as a remote to activate your entertainment system so you can choose the movie you want to watch without physically having to go near your DVD player.

3 ways to open the door: 1) remotely via iPad 2) manually by inputting a code
3) manually with the use of a normal key

A control panel on this iPad allows you to turn lights on and off or simply dim them.

This light switch with options for Home, Away and Vacation allow you to program lights to turn on/off depending on which option you choose.

I was told that the Twin Oaks Condominium by Greenfields District along Shaw Boulevard which is being constructed, will be the first smart and green high-rise condominium that will employ this energy system. In the near future, I think many planned high-rises as well as homes will be considering these energy-saving home systems too.

Innovation #6: Meralco Apps

Got an iPad, iPhone or Android-powered device? You could have a lot more information at the tips of your fingers and available on the fly. Some time back, I wrote about the Meralco Appliance Calculator, accessible via Meralco's website, which helps you calculate which appliances are responsible for most of your energy bill. Now the Meralco Appliance Calculator is a FREE app downloadable from the App Store. 

Meralco Appliance Calculator as seen in the App Store
But aside from this app, there are more apps coming to your device. Take a look...

Power Maintenance Schedule - Find out if there is a maintenance schedule in your area.

Business Office Directory - Locate the nearest Meralco Business Center.

Meralco e-Bill - No need to wait for the bill to be delivered to your home. Get the details right away online.

After I finished the walkthrough, I actually felt excited to test out, for real, the energy innovations shown to us. Of course, I realize not all of these can be implemented all at the same time but being a bit geeky, I really appreciate the ease with which energy management and conservation can be done both online and remotely. But for these innovations to work, there needs to be a critical mass that will be willing to pay the price for the convenience. That is the magic number that Meralco still needs to work out.

Considering the present Philippine demographics, with many still living below the poverty line, the innovation that will be most helpful and probably most used across society classes will be the prepaid load concept. I think the prepaid concept just naturally clicks with those on a very tight budget and many Filipinos are unfortunately in that situation. By allowing them to consciously top up based on their own budgets, it also makes them more conscious of energy conservation.

How about you? Which innovation did you like best?


Anonymous said...

This is a great idea. Utilizing day-to-day devices such as phones and the internet to monitor power consumption is very wonderful indeed. Prepaid electricity is best also for rented units so for the occupants to not be burdened by overpriced bill. Wow, really hoping this will start to grow on the Metro soon, then nationwide. Great post! :)

Marty said...

Innovation #7: Lower electricity cost - to keep our customers happy and keep businesses from leaving the PHL.

Innovation #8: Stop blaming Napocor

Jane said...

@evanader - Like you I think the prepaid load concept will click right away. The others are nice to have but to bring costs down, they'd need critical mass.

Alvin said...

Alvin likes Marty's post