The Ontario government looks at viability of accelerating deployment and utilisation of smart meters



The electricity distribution utilities in the province of Ontario, Canada are committed to assisting the provincial government to achieve its goal of deploying smart meters to every Ontario residence and small business by 2010, a number that totals over four million meters.

The initial target set by government to deploy 800,000 meters by the end of 2007 was not only achieved, but surpassed. To date, over 1.6 million smart meters have been installed by the province’s electricity distributors, a number that will likely top the 2 million mark by the beginning of 2009.

However, even as the successful installation process continues, some potential changes to the governmentmandated Smart Meter Initiative (SMI) may well be in the offing. On September 17 the newly appointed Minister of Energy and Infrastructure directed the Ontario Power Authority (OPA, the government body responsible for power system planning) to review key elements of the province’s proposed long-term energy system plan – more particularly, the portions of the plan pertaining to renewable generation and conservation. Specifically, the directive calls upon the OPA to review the ‘viability of accelerating conservation targets, including the deployment and utilisation of smart meters’.

Bringing new and renewable generation online is a fundamental part of a long-term solution to Ontario’s supply issues, but curtailing demand through conservation measures represents an equally prominent place in the province’s energy policy. Aggressive targets to save 6,300 megawatts of power through conservation and efficiency measures over the next two decades were mandated by the government just a few short years ago – targets which might now be accelerated or augmented as a result of the Minister-directed review. Smart meters will be an integral part of achieving the province’s conservation and demand management goals. They will provide consumers and utilities with the information and tools to engage in load shifting and electricity usage management, enabling them to more fully realise and act on conservation measures at home and at work.

In parallel with the ongoing successful installation of the new meters, a few utilities in Ontario have begun to move their customers to Time-of-Use pricing in a series of early pilot initiatives. To facilitate this transition, the Independent Electricity System Operator has been selected by the government to lead the development of a single Meter Data Management and Meter Data Repository (MDM/R). The MDM/R will be a key piece of IT infrastructure, central to Ontario’s smart meter initiative. Once each utility’s systems are fully integrated with the MDM/R, ‘raw’ consumption data will be delivered by the utilities to the central repository, ‘scrubbed’ and returned in a bill-ready format for billing and customer care purposes. This process of integrating the province’s more than 80 distributors into a central repository has proven to be a complex operational process, but one which will have to be overcome in order for the province’s SMI to be fully operationalised.

Ontario’s distributors are seeking to ensure the MDM/R is governed in a manner that enables it to successfully fulfil its key mandate within the government’s SMI. Because the operation of the MDM/R is so absolutely critical to the distribution utilities in Ontario (it will convert the ‘raw’ meter reads from utility AMI systems into the bill-quality data required for use in billing and customer care systems), Ontario’s distributors are advocating for majority participation in its governance. The management of this function, and the manner in which the IT systems that perform it are designed, operated and evolved over time, is something that warrants our sector’s direct participation. Ontario’s distributors are committed to pursuing this objective.

Only time will tell if the review recently ordered by the government will result in an acceleration of the current SMI implementation activity and/or the augmentation of the utilisation role of the new meters in the province’s energy plans. The OPA has indicated that its report back to government, which will also include a number of other important elements relating to renewables and conservation, will likely be released in the first quarter of 2009.

In the meantime, the province’s electricity distributors are committed to assisting the government to achieve its stated smart metering goals, as these are integral to ensuring the development of a conservation culture in Ontario.

The Electricity Distributors Association (EDA) is the voice of Ontario’s local electricity distributors, the publicly and privately owned companies that safely and reliably deliver electricity to over four million Ontario homes, businesses and public institutions. The EDA provides members with advocacy and representation in the legislative and regulatory environment and the electricity market in Ontario, Canada.