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Smart meter guru to head up “internet of things” expansion

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Sydney-based real-time energy data management company Wattwatchers has appointed a 10-year veteran of the world’s biggest smart meter company as its new managing director, as the company looks to scale-up both in Australia and internationally.

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Gavin Dietz

Gavin Dietz was officially appointed to the position this week, after long history in energy technology that began in 2003 at private equity team, Bayard Capital. Based in Sydney, Bayard bought 14 metering technology companies around the world over several years to form the Switzerland-based multinational, Landis + Gyr, which then sold to Japanese tech giant Toshiba in 2011 for $US2.3 billion.

Dietz joins Wattwatchers at a critical time, both for the company and for the nascent Australian market for the “internet of things,” which many believe will be key to the transition to an energy market where consumers are engaged and want to make the most of opportunities to save money through energy efficiency, rooftop solar and battery storage.

“I strongly believe that if we give consumers access to real time data they will reduce their energy consumption significantly – either to be green or to save money,” Dietz told RenewEconomy in an interview on Thursday.

“That’s what we expected to come out of the smart meter space, but it hasn’t broken out of the regulated space. We haven’t seen anyone truly empower the customer in that way,” he said.

“All the pieces of the puzzle exist these days, but no one is putting them together.

“By all means, leave the dumb meters there, use them for billing. But allow room for energy efficiency. There can be a second data capture point in the unregulated space. There doesn’t need to be only one source of data.”

Dietz says that it was as a frustrated consumer that he got involved with Wattwatchers in the first place.

“I got involved a couple of years ago just because I wanted to buy one,” referring to the company’s energy auditor devices (below). I wanted to make my house as energy efficient as possible, but I’d always got stuck at the smart meter.

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“I strongly believe that if people were given access to information – their own data – their desire to spend as little as possible on electricity, for whatever reasons, would take over. A lot of people have never been empowered and they just don’t know.”

Before Dietz was formally appointed to his new role, he led the Wattwatchers team in an advisory role for its appearance at the 7th Clean Energy Ministerial (CEM7) in San Francisco in June – a prestigious event hosted by the US government.

According to Chris Bean – Wattwatchers co-founder and CEO of its parent company the Energy Saving Networks Group (ESNG) – the event took the company and its Australian solar partner, Solar Analytics, into the heart of Silicon Valley and California’s “clean-energy-meets-digital-technology” revolution.

It is the company’s first foray into the US market, where it is working on regulatory approvals.

“Gavin was a pioneer about a decade ago in combining smart metering with consumer-facing in-home displays in Australia and internationally, in the early days of the smart energy household concept,” Bean said in a statement on Wednesday.

“By joining us he has shown extraordinary confidence in Wattwatchers’ emerging enterprise and homegrown Australian technology, coming on board at a critical time in our development from start-up to commercial scale-up in the new IoT era.”

Dietz says that as well as continuing to work with partner Solar Analytics, Wattwatchers aims to become “a little bit more of a contemporary digital company” and to branch into the retail space, working with retailers on how they can do things differently, and work with consumers, finding different ways to engage with them and inspire loyalty rather than offering “ridiculously high” retention discounts and flat “all you can eat” fees.

“Rather than offering customers a 30 per cent discount for 12 months, give them the tools, through Wattwatchers, to cut their energy use in a way that will offer the consumer an even better discount on their bill, and that won’t detract from the retailer’s bottom line.”

“It encourages consumer energy saving and loyalty. There’s got to be better ways than straight discounting.”

Elsewhere, Wattwatchers will also be targeting the market of solar consumers who, in a number of states, will soon come off the premium feed-in tariff and be faced with the problem of what to do with the excess solar their systems generate.

“The solar one is really interesting, as we reach the end of premium FiTs,” Dietz said. “Selling back to grid doesn’t make sense.

“If you can provide (consumers) with a suite of tools to stay within their solar curve, people will take that and use it.”

Which brings us to battery storage. Like many others in the industry, Dietz doesn’t believe many households will use battery storage to go completely off grid, but will combine it will other technologies, including the internet of things, to take more control of their energy use.

“I love that term ‘one step off the grid’,” he said. “I think we can get a whole lot of people one step off the grid.

“(Battery storage) is only going to get people one step off the grid, utilising it with solar.

“People really need to understand how solar works, and they need to size the battery to maximise solar use – that needs technology and data, which we do.”

Dietz also questions the industry view – mostly held by incumbents like AGL Energy – that customers don’t want to know about their energy usage, and don’t care about efficiency, but just want a guarantee the lights will stay on and that they won’t be blindsided by a massive bill.

“I can’t imagine my kids receiving an electricity bill like we do today. I want to get us to the point where we use technology to say, ‘I want to spend $4 a day on electricity, tell me when I’m at $3.50’.

“If you don’t have data, you can’t make a good decision, you can’t make any decision really.”  

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  • Rod

    I agree, many (not all) energy customers would respond to a visual display of actual usage.
    I considered our household efficient until I purchased a Wattson, sadly now defunct.
    Real time, bright display of actual usage or export or annual cost estimate..
    The first thing I discovered was my reverse cycle AC was using 60 watts in standby 24/7! I now turn it off at the meter.
    We reduced our usage by 30% and amazingly my wife takes notice of it.

    • Margaret Page

      I think we need more than just good data to make good energy decisions. I think people – the general public, not familiar with renewable energy technologies, need to ‘see’ what an energy transition ‘looks’ like. Something like the Wattson display that Rod was talking about with bright display of actual usage or export to grid or annual cost – but provides further functions such as: checks and balances with storage and usage, provision for sale / permission to allow electricity back to grid at an agreed rate (this is a likely scenario in the future where consumers become prosumers), alerts you if your PV panels are not performing and need servicing, best time scenarios to use / programme major appliances – could link to APVI solar map and BOM to forecast family’s daily/weekly energy budget and potential to sit in the ‘energy curve’ that Dietz mentioned. No wonder Rod’s wife was taking notice of the Wattson – she could ‘see’ what energy use looked like:)

  • MaxG

    I think customers who want to know find ways to know… I have been knowing my consumption from day dot, as I have known my petrol consumption over the decades…

    • Brian Tehan

      Sorry, I don’t agree. Only the nerdy amongst us have any idea what’s actually using power or even whether we’re actually using too much power. Most people have no idea.

      • MaxG

        … because they do not want to know… 🙂
        See, people can ‘find out’ when the next event is they are interested in, and they ‘find out’ what their next car will be… the people I actually asked whether they know their consumption said: the couldn’t be bothered.
        It is the same with ‘having no time’ to do a certain thing. It is BS. It depends on the priority people give the thing they want to do. No priority = not being done.

  • Brian Bartlett

    We can’t legally sell a $4000 car for use on our roads without a dashboard visible to the operator indicating speed, fuel levels and warning lights but it is perfectly legal to sell a $400,000 house without a dashboard visible to the operator indicating power use, water use, gas use and internal temperature levels. If you tried to sell the aforementioned car without any monitoring of system parameters the average consumer would not buy it. However they will happily accept a house costing 100 times as much with zero visible system level monitoring.