Personality Profile – Ralph Abbott
President of Plexus Research, and principal in Plexus’ Boston, USA office, Ralph Abbott received his BSME degree from Bucknell University and an MBA from the University of San Francisco’s Graduate Business School. Plexus Research specialises in metering, control, communications and demand-side management technologies for utilities. The firm is presently involved in AMR projects with near term requirements exceeding 5 million meters. Abbott makes the point that the trend towards AMR in the US is profoundly influenced for better and for worse by industry restructuring and deregulation (or regulation!). The factors propelling the trend are new lower cost technologies, a need to reduce costs under performance-based regulation, and the need to provide a richer array of service options to customers. Working in the other direction are confusing regulatory pronouncements (at the state level in the US) about who will own the meter, who will read the meter and how the data will be used. Despite this – and despite the fact that many large utilities have delayed implementing AMR until these issues have been sorted out Abbott believes there is a definite move towards communicating meters. A look into the future At present most metering systems for large users use telephone, with cellular or other two-way RF alternatives. Abbott believes there are some very attractive emerging low cost two-way radio products entering the market during 1997. Most use spread spectrum technologies. Power line communication is also achieving attention. Two-way paging products are promising now, with further advancements on the horizon. Embedded Personal Communications Services (PCS) radio applications are a bit further out on the cost scale, but should become more attractive. Asynchronous Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL) technologies will provide more bandwidth on telephone twisted pair. Satellite technologies, now justified for some high value remote applications, will become more widespread as Low Earth Orbit (LEO) constellations of satellites find their place in orbit in the next few years. In 20 years time Abbott believes that new metering will all be electronic and highly programmable, so that a few model variations will serve a wide range of applications. Meters will be self-calibrating. Displays on the meter will be eliminated, except where required by outdated regulation. Remote displays of metering and cost data will be available, but as an optional extra-cost item to customers who ask for them. Customers will have access to metering and billing information via other means, such as the then-current successor to the Internet. Meters will be modular, with various telecommunications technology modules being changeable in the field without taking the meter out of service. Many technologies for meter data communications will still co-exist, but Abbott is of the opinion that the dominant technologies in urban areas will be low power, two-way RF, built upon the availability of components and existing communications infrastructure which will be in place to support many other voice and data applications. Much more customer meter data will be required for utilities to operate in the restructured environment. But the single most important factor will be as it always has been the issue of cost versus value. The cost of incorporating communications is coming down while the value is going up. Although up to now few added revenue services have become winners, the utilities’ desire to provide these services, which `ride’ on AMR systems, will not diminish. Ralph Abbott is a Registered Professional Engineer and a senior member of the IEEE Power Engineering Society. He is a member of the Capital Formation Committee of the Smaller Business Association of New England, the 128 Venture Group, and an advisory committee member of DA/DSM ’95 and ’96. He has authored many papers in his field and is a frequent speaker at industry symposia. After graduating in 1962 he held senior positions in several control systems firms before becoming vice president of American Science & Engineering in 1973. He is recognised as the driving force behind AS&E’s early success in AMR and load management; he developed the two largest systems in load management with Duke Power and Wisconsin Electric Power, totaling more than 400 000 remote points. In 1980 Abbott participated in founding Vedette Energy Research, successfully developing the first broadcast FM radio subcarrier load management system. The Vedette system was developed to work in concert with SCADA/EMS systems, and Abbott arranged the firm’s subsequent take-over by ASEA Brown Boveri. He was a co-founder of Plexus in the early 1980s; the firm is recognised as a leader in its fields of expertise.