The Green Approach to Energy Theft

I’ve spent the last few days at the Utility Analytics Week conference in Atlanta, where energy companies come together to discuss what they can do with the data they’re beginning to collect from smart meters. Despite the range of interesting and useful things that are possible, the majority of speakers converged on one application – reducing the level of energy theft. Specifically that seemed to mean stopping people stealing electricity to grow marijuana. A speaker from the Canadian supplier BC Hydro even went as far as saying that detecting marijuana growers was the main reason they’d decided to install smart meters.

The reason marijuana growers bypass their meters is that it traditionally takes quite a lot of power to run the growing lights for a loft-full of cannabis plants. Apparently 1,000W agricultural lights are needed for a set of fifteen to twenty plants. And now that the Canadian utilities are cracking down on energy thieves, the illicit trade is moving to the US. Which really got the US utility representatives hot under the collar. There’s nothing that riles a Southern utility manager as much as the knowledge that those pesky Canadians are turning his kids into reefer smoking zombies.

Hence the amount of effort being poured into revenue protection data analytics in an attempt to differentiate a closet pot grower from a faulty transformer. However, I think that by concentrating on theft, the utilities are missing an opportunity.

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