Conference: Smart Metering West Coast
Location: Los Angeles, CA, U.S.A
Presenter: Hugh Baker
Abstract: Presented by Hugh Baker at Smart Metering West Coast

A new generation of metering equipment, metering software and metering vendors promises to deliver on the vision of the intelligent grid at the utility–customer interface.  As with any period of rapidly changing technology, there will be winners and losers, including not only vendors, but those who make technology choices as a buyer.  This article discusses the pitfalls of proprietary architectures in the Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) technology space and why open protocols are necessary for the utility industry to realize the full potential of AMI systems.

The AMI business case is usually built around several basic value propositions.  AMI offers the promise of increasing operational efficiencies, improving reliability, reducing costs, and improving customer service within the utility.  Layered onto the need to achieve these operational objectives, the typical utility must deploy an AMI system under challenging business and operating conditions.  In order for a system to withstand these conditions while also functioning in the most efficient manner, the AMI systems and related technologies must operate together. 

One can find support and appreciation for the advantages of open AMI systems by looking at the practical implications of utilizing proprietary systems, a situation with which our firm has direct experience.

Case in point, a wires only T&D utility in a competitive retail market came to our firm to implement an AMI system.  With a very flat, compact and highly dense service area, the business case was simple.  Read and process the meter data on three billing cycles per month and give customers access to their interval usage data via the web.  From an AMI deployment perspective, the conditions were ideal.  Since this was the first AMI deployment across 100% of a utility’s customer base, there were many lessons learned, the most notable being the overall hindrance derived from proprietary hardware and wireless communications with a proprietary protocol.

Since deploying the system, newer technologies have become available that have greater capabilities, even within the narrow value proposition that the current system addresses.  In a rapidly changing technology environment, a proprietary metering system provides very little hedge against technological obsolescence.  Another takeaway from this experience was that the system cannot address additional business requirements that may occur in the future, including the need to add programs such as load control switches, remote control thermostats, and demand response.

In conclusion, open AMI systems provide utilities with the opportunity to minimize duplication of hardware and software, maximize the available infrastructure, and easily deploy a cost effective, secure, high performance AMI system.  AMI open standards is a win/win situation for all, with open systems allowing utilities to face lower risk, lower costs and have greater flexibility, while vendors are able to concentrate on what they do well, gain access to a much larger potential market, and therefore have less business risk.  Last but not least, utility customers benefit from the ability of an open AMI system infrastructure to deliver innovative new value-added services.