In a sense, AMI has been coming for a long time. It is the natural outgrowth of AMR, and circumstances, at least in California, make this a very good time to move ahead with AMI. n my mind, there are several key drivers that make AMI especially attractive now.
- Regulatory support: The Energy Policy Act of 2005 was spurred by widespread blackouts on the East Coast several years ago. The Act looks at supply side and demand side solutions, such as programmable thermostats. AMI is a foundational technology that creates opportunities to improve grid efficiency and create more demand response options. Eventually, additional demand side responses will defer the need for more power plants and their ancillary infrastructure, helping to hold down customer costs.
- Changes in technology: By moving from electromechanical meters to solid state, vast amounts of new data about customer usage and specific information about operations on the grid is becoming available. For example, it will be possible to pinpoint the exact location of an outage, allowing the restoration of service more quickly to customers. In some ways, the installation of AMI will resemble the introduction of the digital watch. At first, it was simply a very accurate timepiece, but it grew into a stopwatch, then a heart monitor, etc. The same growth will be seen in applications for the two-way communicating meter. As the experience of other utilities that have gone before, the full potential for all this data will not be known until it is available.
- Enabling technology: Enhanced demand response will require greater participation by customers. While residential and small business customers are quick to conserve to avoid rolling blackouts, few are aware of the cost of peak energy usage. AMI can help enable customer awareness of true energy costs and give them an opportunity to effectively manage their bills through optional timedifferentiated rates. In addition, a recognition of those true costs will provide an excellent opportunity to promote energy efficiency programmes, rebates and habits.
- The environment: More efficient use of energy from fossil fuels will reduce air and water emissions. Also, because information about grid operations will be expanded, it will be possible for greater integration of distributed generation resources, including renewables with their minimal environmental impacts.
AMI is a foundational application that will enable a variety of modernising technologies including the smart grid, with its self-healing advanced grid control systems to generate and distribute electricity most effectively, economically and securely for future needs.
The customer-utility connection The main reason I accepted the opportunity to lead San Diego Gas & Electric’s (SDG&E) AMI project was the strategic aspect of the project: here was a first step toward reinventing the customer-utility relationship. While it is known that there is a suite of operational benefits for AMI technology, its installation is also seen as enabling a system that will open the door for new customer benefits and services.
At this stage, SDG&E is focusing its efforts in field testing the utility applications that would allow it to maximise the capabilities of the entire grid. First, the utility has to use its facilities at peak efficiency to ensure that unnecessary costs can be eliminated. At the same time, the utility needs to be prepared to offer new services at minimum costs to its customers.
Practically speaking, the intention is to create a system that will serve us today while planning for tomorrow through the accommodation of future refinements in technology. Remotely upgradeable solid state meters are like little computers, storing large amounts of customer data. Two-way AMI communication will ensure that the information isn’t stranded at the meter.