My, How Time Flies!


Those of us who have been around the metering and AMR/AMI (automatic meter reading/advanced metering infrastructure) industry for a number of years can relate to the phrase “My, how time flies,” right? Metering goes back hundreds of years. Many of the metering companies in America, as well as others around the world, have a history that goes back more than a century.

This article recognises Smart Energy International’s recent 10-year contributions to the metering and AMR world, as we take a look at the last decade and the developments we’ve seen in the North American utility markets. It’s safe to say that the 1990s can be regarded as the decade that birthed AMR, while the first decade of the 21st century will be seen as opening a new chapter into advanced metering technologies. Going back to the early 1980s, AMR started with the first testing by the then AT&T conglomerate, using telephonebased technology. Since then, AMR has evolved into a market dominated by radio-frequency (RF) based systems and powerline carrier technology. The telephone-based systems carried too much regulatory overhead and installation issues to maintain the AMR market. And even with today’s cellular-based telephone systems, RF, powerline, and the new kid on the block – broadband powerline communications – are now the favourites.

In 1996, the North America AMR market was dominated by mobile walkby/ drive-by AMR systems, capturing 87 percent1 of the total market, which was led by Itron. The remaining 13 percent1 of the market used fixed network AMR, which was led by Neptune meters, with a couple of telephone-based AMR systems for water. AMR market penetration was approximately 4.3 percent1 of the total North American meter market and was led by gas utilities. Ten years later, while mobile systems are still leading the market mix of AMR products, the trend is moving toward AMR fixed networks. Powerline carrier technologies, considered a fixed network, have been installed and are planned to be installed in large electric IOUs after their birth in the electric rural and co-op markets. This should give a boost to their market share. Meanwhile, RF technologies still dominate the total AMR product market with an 82 percent1 share, with the leading fixed network share from Cellnet.

As AMR marches forward, so do metering technologies, especially in the North American residential electricity meter market. Electric solid-state meters for C&I applications have been common for the past few years, but solid-state residential meters are now the norm. Schlumberger led the charge with their
Centron® solid-state electric meter in the late 1990s, followed by the Sensus iCon solid-state meter in 2002. Today, all the major electric meter manufacturers offer full lines of solid-state electricity meters. And in most cases, many AMR projects with electric utilities involve upgrading all of their residential meters to solidstate technology.

In the gas utility meter market,the good ole’ diaphragm meters are still trudging along for residential installations, but sophisticated metering systems have been in use for a while to transport gas and handle large user C&I metering applications. Recently the industry has witnessed ultrasonic gas meter technology becoming more visible for small C&I installations as a way to replace bulky diaphragm meters. Time will tell whether new technology will eventually replace the residential diaphragm meters. And last but not least, water utilities. While metering companies keep pace with innovative designs and technologies compatible with AMR systems, current positive displacement and velocity measurement techniques are still the norm. Like the gas market, long-standing, reliable measuring elements still get the job done, but with new and reliable power sources available, we could see the next level of metering technology focus on the gas and water meter markets!

We all know the saying: There is nothing constant except change. Although I’ve highlighted only a couple of significant events in the past decade since Smart Energy International hit the streets, I can say with confidence that there will be much more to report in the next decade as new technologies continue to emerge.
Footnote: 1 – AMR market data provided by Howard Scott and The Scott Report.