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Smart Meters: Jump in or Wait?

Choosing a supplier for advanced meter reading technology and services is a difficult task for utilities. Analysts offer their views on AMR technology trends.

Advanced meter reading technology, combined with time-of-use electric tariffs, are central to the vision of a "smart grid."

Related case study:
"Time of Use Electricity Billing: How Puget Sound Energy Reduced Peak Power Demands"

But choosing a supplier for advanced meter reading technology and services is a difficult task for utilities. Should they favor today's features, or capabilities for tomorrow's expansion? In-house, hosted, or outsourced? Mature technology, or open standards? Single vendor, or integrated best-of-breed components?

The Smart Grid Newsletter ran an article yesterday entitled "The Dangers of Advanced Metering" in which analyst Jesse Berst warns utilities of the many potential pitfalls he perceives in the selection of AMR technology.

As with any nascent technology sector, the field of AMR vendors is in a state of flux. Metering hardware is becoming more integrated and less differentiated, Berst says. Prices are coming down in the next five years, as open standards disrupt the proprietary playing field and give utilities more choices.

"Despite the confusion, I do not advocate waiting," Berst writes. "Advanced metering is too important and too empowering. But I do suggest looking for a system that can accommodate the future."

Meter data management is an increasingly essential component of AMR. UtiliPoint analyst Patti Harper-Slaboszewicz posted an article on the Global Association of Risk Professionals last week discussing MDM and its role in the utility's IT infrastructure.

In "Comprehensive Meter Data Management Minimizes Changes to Key Utility Systems" Harper-Slaboszewicz writes:

"With an early investment in meter data management and with a careful design of where to place functionality, utilities can develop a workable and flexible IT system for using the meter data provided by advanced or smart metering systems."

MDM is designed to allow utilities to use multiple AMR technologies. It provides the information required by each IT system in that system's required format. Berst expects to see every AMR vendor add MDM software to their offerings.