Situated only a few miles from the Mexican border, the burgeoning city of San Diego is home to San Diego Gas & Electric. Smart Energy International interviewed Ted Reguly, Director, AMI Program Office.
Tell us a bit about yourself and the AMI Program Office.
Ted Reguly: I’ve been with SDG&E since 1981. I graduated in Mechanical Engineering from Cal State, Long Beach and spent quite a few years in the power generation business. After deregulation in California the utilities started getting out of generation, so I decided to move into electric distribution. After receiving my MBA, I worked in supply management for a while, and also in the customer service field. I then got the opportunity to sit in as a witness on our original AMI hearing, and started understanding the benefits of AMI. In 2005, the company decided the topic was big enough to justify a separate entity - the Program Office - and I was offered the position of Director. It’s great that I have stayed with the same company my entire career.
Tell us about SDG&E.
TR: SDG&E is a regulated subsidiary of San Diego-based Sempra Energy (NYSE: SRE), a Fortune 500 energy services holding company with 2006 revenues of nearly $12 billion. The Sempra Energy companies’ more than 13,000 employees serve more than 29 million consumers.
Sempra Energy was formed in June 1998 by the merger of Los Angeles-based Pacific Enterprises and San Diego-based Enova Corporation. Enova Corporation was the parent company of several subsidiaries, including SDG&E, which was founded in 1881 as the San Diego Gas Company to provide gas service to a fledgling city with a population of 3,000. Electric facilities were first acquired in 1887.
What are some of the key challenges your utility faces with regard to your metering operations and projects?
TR: One of them is being sure that the AMI project is successful and that we deliver customer benefits. We are forecasting 1.4 million electric meters and 900,000 gas meters that we need to interface. We’re doing the back-office legacy work on our system integration, and we’re planning to complete the first part by October 2008. Mass deployment of the meters should start in November 2008, and hopefully be completed by Q2 2011. In preparation for this, we are planning to install approximately 2,000 meters in March and April 2008. We’re going to get them out there and let them sit for a while and see how they do. We’ve already picked our MDM system and we’re in the process of integrating that. We have yet to pick our AMI technology, but we plan to do this by the end of the year.
Why are you implementing AMI?
TR: The big push for us is demand response and how that fits into our total resource plan. In Southern California, where generation and transmission constraints are high, there is a balance among energy efficiency and conservation, how much renewable energy we bring online and how much transmission access we have. On top of that there’s the need to reduce the energy load during some peak times. It’s a very challenging environment, particularly since growth in Southern California is high.
What strategies have you implemented to strengthen relationships with your customers?
TR: In the State of California, the customer didn’t really ask for AMI – the push came from regulators that asked the three California investor-owned utilities to come up with a business case, post energy crisis. But from the perspective of our senior leadership, it’s really much more about customer choice and how customers could benefit from having a solid-state meter with 2-way communications in their house. Many are not yet sure there’ll be any benefits!
So we are trying to bring them in to help us design the packages they want. Various segments of our customers see benefits in different ways: environmentally, socially, cost. Some people love enabling technology, others really don’t care about it. We want to provide information and choice, but we mustn’t forget that other segment of the population who just pay their bills and don’t want to be bothered. Identifying the benefits is key.
We are going out and talking to our customers first about smart meters. There is a bit more risk in this, but what we want is to get that customer interaction and feedback so we can tweak it and customize it. Last year we did some pilots in three geographic areas, primarily testing the communication technology in response to our RFPs to ensure that the technology could really work. The interesting part was going into the community, having the town hall meetings, interfacing with the customers, seeing what they liked and didn’t like. When I go out and talk to people, they are really excited about the technology – but the worst thing is trying to meet their high expectations! We are working on the enabling technologies, so when customers do get the meters they get the benefits fast as possible.
SDG&E is also seeing this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to touch every customer in our service territory; it’s really about the whole customer interface. The changing out of the meter is part of it, but it’s even more about the services we do and will offer. We want to know more about our customers and how they want to be interacted with. We want to give the customer a menu, a set of bundled services, and we must decide how are we going to segment it – environmentally, by load demand, efficiency etc. So this is no longer a meter project; it’s really the start of a customer transformation project. We constantly need to be aware of scope-creep, as the project just keeps getting bigger and bigger. The focus needs to be on what is important now, without losing sight of what lies ahead. This isn’t going to stop.
How do you manage customers who steal energy?
TR: AMI will help here too. The system will detect somebody bypassing 100% of the energy load, but someone who is siphoning constantly is more difficult to detect. However, AMI offers tamper detection, as well as analytics to help detect theft, and we plan to utilize that. The downside is that we will not have someone out there every month to physically detect theft, so we will be using the brainpower of the system. We know we have unmetered energy use, but we don’t really know who’s doing it. We are doing everything we can to find out. It really resonates with the customers, that technology can curb theft of energy – customers don’t want to be paying for energy others are using.
What R&D activities are you looking at in the metering area?
TR: In California, the home area network (HAN) is a big push. We are working with some of the other gas and electric utilities in California and throughout the US, The OpenHAN task force and companies like ZigBee Alliance are making this a reality. Hopefully we will be able to demonstrate how it works and what’s going on in this industry segment. It has grown since 2005, and now almost every utility in the US is going in for a HAN. What we are trying to do is to make this more than a metering project. It’s not all about the meter; it’s really about the customer and ensuring that we deliver customer benefits.
Thank you for your input.