Over the last several years, an increasing number of automatic metering reading (AMR) systems have been successfully installed and operated in the US. The evolution of the technology supporting these systems has been rapid. The metering technology itself has not been changing so much as the communications networks that support the metrology. These systems have evolved from simple drive-by systems to complex yet highly reliable two-way meshed communication networks.
The evolution of the term advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) has generally come to refer to the metering technology necessary to support higher resolution (e.g hourly or better) reads of energy usage data. This technology enables innovative rate programmes to be developed that support the basic concepts of demand response – using less energy when costs are high and more when they are low. AMI is now increasingly being associated with the ability to support demand response by delivering pricing and control information directly to end use devices such as programmable communicating thermostats and appliances.
With that capability has come the need to generate pricing information and control signals, deliver that information reliably to the meter and end use devices, bring higher volumes of data back over the communications network, and then store, manage, and effectively utilise the data within the utility enterprise. This infrastructure now allows a tight coupling between the utility and the end user of energy. The utility has incredible flexibility in using pricing to reflect operating cost, markets are enabled, and the end user is empowered to participate in the energy marketplace. But that empowerment is not as easy as some may think.
Experience has shown that end users can and will respond to pricing signals and participate in direct load control programs – but only if it is easy to do. End use consumers of energy do not want to be energy managers – they need technology to do the work for them.
For that reason, there is increasing interest in further refining the utility/consumer communications interface in the AMI to support a network of intelligent end use devices on the Home Area Network (HAN). Recently a new task force in the UtilityAMI organisation (http://www. utilityami.org/ ) called the HAN Task Force has been set up to address this extension of the AMI. This group is working to identify the standards and practices necessary to enable information exchange between the utility network and the consumer network to which intelligent energy using devices are connected.
The work involves identifying the information to be exchanged, the devices that can utilise and act on the information, the protocols and other standards necessary to support the information exchange, and the best practices necessary to ensure interoperability among devices from multiple vendors. The utility industry must recognise however, that energy management is just one application of many that will utilise the HAN. For example, it is likely that home entertainment applications will be a much more significant driver of how the HAN evolves than energy management.
If our industry can work with the other HAN stakeholders and make our requirements known, then there is a high probability that the HAN will evolve in a way conducive to managing energy use in a much more intelligent, creative and efficient manner than we do today. This is a major step on the path to a more modern, intelligent grid.