The electric distribution industry in the United States is abuzz with developments in metering. The convergence of a number of previously isolated technologies is set to make the next decade a very exciting time for both utilities and providers of technologies.
On the advances front, the following developments are taking place:
• AMR (automated metering reading) continues at an ever-increasing pace. Although trials have taken place for many years, there now seems to be a serious effort to install utilitywide AMR systems, with cellular and
powerline carrier being the dominant technologies.
• BPL (broadband over power line) is advancing very quickly. While the industry is split as to whether BPL
will survive, recent press releases show BPL achieving speeds around 25 megabits per second (Mbps), expected to rise to around 100 Mbps. BPL will face competition from fibre and cable to homes, and will be challenged by claims that it interferes with licensed radio operators.
• Smart metering is advancing to meet the need for DSM (demand side management) which is seeing a resurgence as consumers seek to better manage their demand. In California, this single issue is driving an estimated US$5 billion investment, so that consumers will have the ability to shift their demand patterns. The drive is to provide real time pricing to every meter in the state.
• The ability of utilities to communicate with meters will require a ‘standard’ meter model. A very positive advance was the recent announcement that IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission) TC57 and IEC TC13 were looking at joint work that would bring metering into the fold of common equipment models. This would allow for plug-and-play integration of residential meters into the broader drive for integration across the transmission and distribution industry. If successful, this trend could bring about the emergence of interoperability standards in residential metering.
The advances are not without their challenges, which include:
• No clear definition exists for the emerging smart meters. Without this definition, the industry runs the risk of developing custom meters for each application, which will increase costs and commit utilities to a single supplier.
• Utilities need to rally around standards for equipment and systems (including communication). Interoperability and interchangeability of meters from many manufacturers will ensure healthy competition, high quality, and low cost for utilities. More effort on standards convergence is also necessary to integrate the work of North America under ANSI/IEEE with that taking place within the IEC.
• Long-term reliable performance of solid-state metering remains a concern. Meters are essentially utility cash registers. However, tremendous pressure is being exerted to reduce their costs and expand their functionality, and this pressure has the potential to reduce meter quality and threaten reliability.
• The rapid changes in technology – coupled with a changing retail marketplace and the lack of a definition of a smart meter – mean that the field life of the systems being installed is much less than the typical 40 years for other T&D investments.
Consequently, old views of system obsolescence will be challenged, and the new technology will require field staff with new skills. OTHER TRENDS EPRI has active projects supporting the advancement of AMR, BPL and actively supports IEC TC 57 and 13. Other possible trends? Although theft of energy and prepayment technologies receive considerable attention in other parts of the world, there is currently little mention of these within the US. This does not mean that theft is not a problem – rather, it is simply not a key driver for the industry at this time.
Finally, although convergence of metering between utilities such as gas, water, and electricity is possible, there is limited mention of this as an industry driver, although this is expected to change over time as pressure to reduce costs increases.