[Ed Finamore][May 12, 2008]

 
Perhaps it was the smart looking sailors and their dates attending the Submarine Ball when I arrived on Saturday night, but a special atmosphere seemed to accompany the official launch of the 9th annual Metering, Billing/CIS America conference and exhibition in San Diego. As Saturday night turned to Sunday, it was clear that the Navy and Smart Energy International had both decided on an outstanding choice of venue, making the San Diego Sheraton Hotel and Marina the perfect location for this year’s conference on metering, billing and customer management.

This year’s record attendance was treated to its best ever slate of speakers and industry leaders. An impressive array of utility industry managers provided valuable updates on the status of their AMI deployments as well as lessons learned. Debra Reed, CEO of San Diego Gas & Electric, provided the keynote address and enthusiastically described the benefits of smart metering technology for their customers and the importance of AMI in helping to manage load growth in California and across the U.S. A host of other utility managers, such as Jana Corey, director of AMI initiatives at Pacific Gas & Electric, and Scott Blackburn, AMI business manager of Florida Power & Light, contributed their insights and helped communicate the approach utilities are taking concerning large scale smart metering rollouts. 

For added measure, a water track was introduced this year. The increased focus on water meter solutions provided valuable opportunities for utility personnel to examine the benefits of combined electric and water metering AMI in a multi-utility environment. Several informative speakers delivered the message that fixed network AMI does provide important benefits for water utilities, and when coupled with electric meters can generate even greater synergies for cost effective network implementation. Some interesting case studies were presented that demonstrated how some water utilities have already successfully implemented AMI technologies and are now achieving valuable operating and conservation benefits.

On Wednesday, the last day of the conference, the role of meter data management systems, a key component for realizing the full benefits of AMI, took center stage. Steve Nees, Anaheim’s technology development manager, described the importance of meter data management in his utility’s plans to maximize the benefits of AMI. And John Wambaugh, eMeter’s chief solutions architect, provided valuable insight in describing his view of what meter data management “is and is not”. John explained that meter data management systems go beyond mere customer billing, to provide other business process support and the ability to efficiently interface with other enterprise level systems.

An interesting new twist introduced at the conference this year was the use of an interactive Audience Response System permitting attendees to record their opinions during panel discussions, and then immediately view the tabulated the results. The active audience participation made for lively discussions following the initial tally of opinions, and as results were presented graphically to visually reflect the attendee rankings. Jonathan Spencer Jones from Smart Energy International chaired this interesting session, which included a variety of industry leaders as panelists.

The technical sessions and pre-conference workshops combined to produce a very informative program with interesting and timely presentations on data and connectivity, demand response, networks and grids, and customer service. The breakfast “Smart Sessions” were a tremendous hit with utility personnel and provided an additional opportunity to engage colleagues and technical experts in one-on-one conversations involving shared experiences.

Overall, the 9th Annual Metering, Billing/CIS America was a well attended event that continues to build on previous successes. The Metering America team must be commended for again putting on an informative and well run conference that left many utility managers praising the experience and looking forward to attending the conference again next year in Miami.