AMR trends in electric utilities in the Caribbean


Nigel Hosein 
Implementation of automatic meter reading (AMR) systems has been, and continues to be, on the rise in the Caribbean region in the past few years, especially among the 30 electric utility members of the Association of Caribbean Electric Utilities (CARILEC). The main value drivers causing this increase are customer service, efficiency, accuracy, and, of course, financial.

Most if not all of the utilities in the Caribbean region are keen on the use of AMR systems. However, they are at different stages of the evaluation and implementation process. Some are in the feasibility study phase and others are in the test/pilot phase, while others have completed island-wide deployment. Among the latter are Bahamas Electricity Corporation (Nassau) and Caribbean Electric Utilities Company Ltd (Grand Cayman).

Bahamas has over 100,000 AMR meters deployed while Grand Cayman has all of its single-phase customers on AMR meters. PREPA (Puerto Rico) has implemented a power line carrier AMR solution in most parts of the island. Utilities that have implemented test/pilot mobile AMR systems include T&TEC (Trinidad & Tobago), Bermuda Electric Light Company Ltd, Turks & Caicos Utilities Ltd, Antigua Public Utilities Authority, Grand Bahama Power Corporation, St. Kitts, LUCELEC (St. Lucia), GRENLEC (Grenada) and the Dominican Republic. A couple of them, such as T&TEC and the US Virgin Islands, have tenders out for islandwide deployment.

Some of the others are expected to follow in similar fashion in the near future. The utilities from Montserrat (MONLEC), Nevis (NEVLEC), Tortola (BVIEC), St Maarten (GEBE) and Anguilla (ANGLEC) are all actively reviewing the benefits of AMR systems and its application on their systems. The current AMR technologies being employed include GE or Elster meters with the Itron modules (oneway communication systems) which use either portable radio handhelds or drive-by mobile collectors.

Elster/OHM International’s Energy Axis 2-way communication system is also being considered and some utilities, including LUCELEC (St. Lucia), DOMLEC (Dominica), JPSCO (Jamaica) and Belize Electricity Ltd, are in negotiations to enter a pilot/test phase with this system. The selection of AMR technology for use varies from island to island and is based on a number of factors including topography, type of electricity supply, vendor support and reliability, etc. For example, in Aruba because of the type of electricity supply that exists most of the residential homes are connected with a three-phase supply.

Therefore, the cost of replacement AMR three-phase meters for this island is much more expensive compared to the replacement cost in other islands for single-phase AMR meters. On a side note, prepayment systems are also being considered to a limited extent in the region. Aqualectra (Curacao) and DOMLEC (Dominica) have implemented on a small scale prepaid systems for their residential customers. In Dominica these prepaid systems are very appealing to landlords who rent apartments to tenants.

These systems avoid a tenant leaving an unpaid utility bill when he vacates the premises. Similar to the prepaid mobile telephone market it is possible that the deployment of such meter systems could increase in the region over time. As the AMR technology improves and become more affordable in the near future – especially two-way communication systems – it is expected that more of the Caribbean electric utilities will move to the island-wide deployment phase.Further updates will be provided as the situation progresses.