Future Prospects For Metering And Billing In Austria


By Rainer Bachmaier and Stefan Santer

In Austria, metering of both electricity and gas is defined in law (Austrian Electricity Act¹, Austrian Natural Gas Act²) as the duty of the grid operator. The grid operator is responsible for purchasing, installing, operating, and reading the meters, and reporting the measurement data to the energy suppliers and to the clearing and settlement agency (responsible for balancing market merit order, price formation and settlement of the balancing energy). The costs incurred by metering are covered by the determination of maximum metering charges for each type of metering defined in the use of system charges (Use of System Charges Order 2006³).

Whereas at present no legal provisions exist for the migration towards smart metering and the overall introduction of AMM devices for all customers, several projects are planned and partly under implementation by the different distribution grid operators.

One of the key questions in relation to smart metering is to what extent the AMM devices and smart metering concepts generate qualitative and quantitative benefits for the different market participants (customers, grid operators, suppliers)? Some of the benefits can be identified as follows:

  • Real time consumption information for customers via a display, invoice or printed information material. One efficient and user friendly option is the Internet
  • Possibilities for the introduction of advanced energy management and energy auditing solutions for the retail market and for a wide range of small customers
  • Reduction of costs incurred within the business processes and operations of the grid operators through automation and improvement in data measurement, processing and evaluation. However, processing of such a large volume of data will require robust, well designed applications and solutions
  • Technology improvements through replacement of the partially antiquated metering infrastructure
  • Enabling a range of further applications such as demand side response and peak load management. In the longer term this also could become beneficial for network planning and operation and dimensioning of equipment
  • Traceability and reduction of technical and commercial energy losses
  • Individualised grid and energy tariff models for customers, such as time-of-use or different grid tariff levels in the case of customers participating in demand response programmes
  • Integration of distributed generation and microgeneration, and possible introduction of concepts such as Virtual Power Plants
  • Improving quality of service and supply, including potential logging and evaluation of voltage quality at customers’ premises
  • Improving market functioning, organisation and the availability of measurement data and automation of market processes (especially for independent market players and new entrants in the market)
  • Facilitating the switching process, etc.

The traditional mechanical electricity meter, installed in nearly every household in Austria at present, was developed at the beginning of the 20th century. The development of CPUs, memory and digital communication during the last 20 years has brought substantial changes in the technology that is available for electricity meters. Digital electronic smart meters are able to handle logging of metered data, manage different and individual tariff models, and monitor voltage parameters such as quality. As the prices of AMM units are expected to fall with the mass market in the future, it is assumed that ever more grid operators will be investing in this new technology – this in particular, since the initial considerations show that under the current conditions and framework, the investment pays back in a very short time.

Due to the complex and diverse technical designs of smart metering devices and an abundance of manufacturers on the market, there are some basic requirements to be fulfilled by any AMM system, beyond the fundamental functions (measurement, storage, management), including:

  • Two-way data communication
  • Availability of an individual tariff functionality
  • Low gear measurements, etc.

Furthermore, a number of issues remain to be addressed, including e.g. the reduced life cycle (15 years) compared with traditional mechanical meters. Another important issue is the communication technology, e.g. whether PLC or GSM is used for the ‘last mile’. For both options the advantages and disadvantages need to be analysed, although it appears from the experiences in the introduction of smart metering on a large scale so far, that PLC is the more convenient technology. This is the reason also why PLC generally has been used for the first step of communication between the actual AMM device and the concentrator at the substation in the practical project implementations so far. Currently several smart metering projects are under investigation or in an early implementation phase in Austria.

The most ambitious project currently is planned and executed by Energie AG Data GmbH, under the commissioning of the grid operator Energie AG Netz GmbH. Both companies are subsidiaries of the Austrian utility Energie AG, which amongst other things is responsible for grid operation in the federal state of Upper Austria and has more than 400,000 customers. The technical solution used is the AMIS system from Siemens Austria. Communication between the meters and the concentrator located in the transformer station is handled by PLC via an integrated modem. At the moment, the company is still running a field experiment. The next step is planned to be a trial operation with about 10,000 meters in autumn 2008. The AMIS meters used by Energy AG fulfil the requirements for smart meters mentioned above.

Another Upper Austrian grid operator, Linz Strom GmbH, is planning to replace its 350,000 mechanical electricity meters during the next couple of years. Linz Strom GmbH will rollout Echelon meters and PLC technology. In June 2007 a test project was started at Plesching, a suburb of the city of Linz, with 121 accommodation units that previously had been provided with a central, ecological heating system and other efficient energy solutions. The next step is the rollout of about 10,000 smart meters around Linz.

Stadtwerke Feldkirch, the municipal utility of the town of Feldkirch, which is located in the federal state of Vorarlberg, is planning to replace all mechanical meters in its grid area. Customers who get a new meter or whose meter has to be recalibrated are being equipped with smart meters. By the end of 2007 there will be 3,000 customers with modern electronic smart meter equipment in use. Stadtwerke Feldkirch is using the metering technology provided by Echelon. The communication between the meters and the concentrator is handled by PLC technology. The company expects among other outcomes a boost in transparency and in energy efficiency for their customers. Therefore, it is planning also to provide customers with access to their consumption data via the Internet or through the customer support centre via telephone. Finally, further improvements of voltage quality monitoring and detection of energy losses are expected too.

Some additional Austrian grid operators have indicated that they are conducting feasibility studies and/or preparatory studies in relation to smart metering projects, and analysing the advantages of introducing an AMM system to their grid. These projects are still at an early stage with no detailed information available yet.

Outstanding examples of AMM technology and solutions in Europe can be found in Italy, the Netherlands and Sweden, all of which already have fully or partly introduced AMM systems in their countries. One of the key differences to the Austrian situation is that the legal basis for smart metering already exists in those countries.

Italy, for example, has had total investments of €2.1 billion over 5 years, but it is anticipated that it can achieve annual cost savings of €500 million. The replacement period lasted over four years and involved more than 10,000 people.

Sweden is now operating a large scale rollout for approximately 850,000 customers by 2008. By May 2007 over 50% of this rollout was complete.

The Netherlands will start its rollout plan in late 2007, with pilot projects accompanied by a change of legislation to build a legal basis. Actual nationwide rollout will start in the first quarter of 2009.

The figures above show clearly that introducing smart metering and AMM systems in a country is a rather challenging task. Other countries in Europe that have announced plans to introduce smart metering concepts are Great Britain, Norway and France.

Other countries where smart meters are installed already are Denmark and Spain; of these two, Spain has a legal basis to equip newly installed meters with AMM functionalities.

Due to the intensified discussions on smart metering in Austria and Europe, the Austrian energy regulatory authority, E-Control, has conducted a public consultation on the introduction of smart metering systems in Austria. In that process, E-Control has published an initial paper, inviting market participants to share their opinions and experiences on smart metering.

As mentioned above, there is no legal basis for a mandatory introduction of AMM systems in Austria. Therefore, the energy sector is broadly divided into two groups of grid operators: early adopters and innovators that are currently implementing smart metering projects, and the companies that are still observing and monitoring developments and assessing the expected benefits.

The costs of implementing smart metering systems, the need to further develop technical standards (especially in the communication area), specific requirements for smart metering hardware, market processes for customer switching, data exchange and access to measurement data are the most important issues currently under discussion in Austria.