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Commonwealth Edison’s Anonymous Data Service: A Review and Recommendations

In 2011, the Illinois General Assembly passed the Energy Infrastructure Modernization Act (EIMA). This legislation was the impetus for grid modernization and advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) investments by the utilities. A key justification for the significant capital expenditures required to enable AMI deployment was the ability for customers to take advantage of smart grid capabilities, including access to better, more complete customer usage data. Accessible energy use data offers a variety of benefits, including the development of innovative energy programs, analysis to better understand and predict energy demand and savings potential, and the ability to calculate individual customer savings from behavioral changes or participation in programs. Stakeholders, including the utilities, touted the new programs and services that would be developed when third parties such as researchers, service providers, and program implementers could identify customers’ needs by accessing robust stores of their energy data.

However, it is important to find the right balance between data access and data privacy, so that customer information is protected. This means restricting third party access to personally-identifiable customer utility data in order to protect customers and preserve data privacy, while also enabling third parties to access anonymous data. Because customer privacy is a vital concern for the regulators and a requirement of the utilities, the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) initiated a proceeding to determine the parameters around sharing energy use data while ensuring its security and maintaining customer privacy. Between September 2013 and July 2014 parties deliberated over how to achieve the proper balance between data access and data privacy. Ultimately, the ICC ordered that the utilities provide data anonymously based on the “15/15 Rule”, among other provisions in a standardized Data Protocol.

The 15/15 Rule is the key to maintaining customer privacy while providing third party access to energy use data. In Illinois, this rule states that anonymized data about individual customers can be provided for groups of at least 15 customers in the same 9-digit zip code (zip+4), as long as no single customer’s load makes up more than 15 percent of the total for that group. If a zip+4 contains fewer than 15 customers, then the geographic area must be expanded to reach the 15 customer threshold, or those customers must be removed from the data.

ComEd’s new anonymous data service enables third parties to access residential customer energy use data that is anonymous and complies with the 15/15 Rule. This service will help ensure that ComEd’s customers can take advantage of the benefits of smart grid investment. This report will describe ComEd’s anonymous data service, discuss the research questions it can help answer, and make recommendations for potential improvements to the service that could expand the benefits for customers, building owners, businesses, and others.

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