The dollar smart meter


Interview with John Heibel, Chairman, CEO and founder of Glen Canyon Corporation

By Jonathan Spencer Jones

A smart meter at the price – around $20-30 – of a traditional Ferraris electromechanical meter: that is the claim of the new Silicon Valley company, Glen Canyon Corporation.

And this is achieved with the latest generation semiconductor technology, all packaged in a meter box about 1.5 inches tall, named NEXGEN.

Explains John Heibel, chairman, CEO and founder of Glenn Canyon Corp.: “Our product is based on a communication core as opposed to adding a communication processor to an electric meter. We integrate in a substantially smaller package which has substantially less cost – and that is one of the ways we really distinguish ourselves.”

Further, adds Heibel, each unit includes a 2.4 GHz local area mesh network, with one of twenty meters also containing either an Ethernet or cellular gateway to communicate the data back to the data systems.

Not only that, but Glen Canyon also offers a cloud-based support service named Virtual AMI (V-AMI). “We take all of the application programming and provide it as cloud service and then frankly, we give the meters away,” says Heibel of what is the industry’s first AMI-as-a-service. Besides traditional AMR meter reading, the service also includes a Google Earth-based power outage reporting system, and remote disconnect/reconnect.

Heibel is no stranger to the metering industry, having been involved, with partner Bob Larson, with companies such as Metering Technology Corporation (acquired by Echelon), Powertec and South Africa-based Utility Systems among others. That was as a venture capitalist – through Glen Canyon Partners – and this new venture brings him very much to the “front line.”

“Glen Canyon is a metering and semiconductor operation based in Santa Cruz,” says Heibel. It develops and manufactures, both at its California site and in Shenzhen in China. This latter is a key market – about half the global market, Heibel notes – and indeed this confidence is well placed with Glen Canyon’s first project announcement being a 1.5 million meter V-AMI deployment, through the local partner in China, Beijing Guozhiheng Power Management Technology Group Co., for the State Electricity Regulatory Commission (SERC).

What other markets are of interest? “We´re going in with a broad spectrum across the world market. We have IEC and ANSI meters, we have prepayment and submetering – we have a product for what are effectively the four corners of the market,” Heibel says adding: “Given market success and ramping manufacturing production we currently have a backlog of about 4 million meters, but we think that our market share could and should be larger than that.”

One market that is of interest is India, which is about one quarter of the world market, Heibel notes, saying that he has been following the country’s development of a low cost meter. “We have two joint venture partners in India but we´re doing this one step at a time. The tendering is a substantial effort even though we have both customers and assemblers for India. It´s still a bit difficult to get in the queue, so as to speak. It might take a year or even more before the project filters through, but the numbers are very interesting and we do have a compliant product for the market.”

Other countries into which Glen Canyon is interested in supplying meters include Brazil and Chile. “We are not ignoring the US, but as a share of 130 million electric meters, it’s less than 10 million meters a year. So it’s going to be a smaller portion of the overall market. The IEC simple single phase meter is still the dominant part of the world market.”

That said the company has in development a 3-phase meter, Heibel says. Also, “we do integrate water and gas, although the attention that it deserves hasn’t been given to water metering as we are concentrating on electricity meters for the immediate future.” And in part this is because “there is a lot of interest in prepayment – we’re using STS prepayment and finalizing the in-home display” (for a split system).

At the price, the potential surely should be great? “We hope it will be received that way,” says Heibel. “There are always impediments to making decisions. If we can reduce the operating cost without incurring substantial capital cost then that should be the case. There should be no reason to buy a regular, old Ferraris meter without communication; we can certainly undercut that cost with a radio equipped solid state meter.”