Electronic Residential Meter Provides Metering Model for Deregulation

Electronic Residential Meter Provides Metering Model for Deregulation

By Dave Richardson, Electric Power Research Institute

The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) is designing and manufacturing a new low-cost, all-electronic residential meter. The SE-240 meter will help utilities reduce operating costs by more easily implementing automated meter reading (AMR). It is also designed to help utilities retain market share with new information-based, value-added customer services offerings such as appliance monitoring and real-time pricing.

Ensuring its affordability, the SE-240 has a projected cost of approximately one-third the cost of other electronic meters on the market. In addition, the new meter`s innovative design–incorporating open platform technology and “plug-in” modules–is ideally suited for the coming deregulated electricity market, a market in which meters may be owned by one entity while open access is provided at the meter to other energy service providers.

The Emerging Market for Advanced Meters

Electric meters represent a key strategic asset to utilities, affording a point-of-presence at more than 100 million customer locations nationwide. As electricity industry deregulation proceeds, point-of-presence`s value is likely to be more fully realized, due primarily to increasing competition for customers (it is estimated that by 2002, one-half of U.S. retail electricity customers will be able to choose their power provider if state regulatory changes now in effect or under consideration create the market changes expected). In this competitive business environment, advanced meters will play a major role as utilities and other energy providers seek to retain and expand their customer base by offering new value-added services made possible by two-way communications.

The potential exists, therefore, for the electric meter`s functions to be radically transformed–from a relatively straightforward measuring device to an information interface between utilities and customers, and a crucial resource for new services delivery. Similar devices in the telecommunications industry have increased customer-perceived value as much as tenfold.

However, opportunities for utilities to take advantage of electric meters as an asset and providing customers with new services are limited by the nature of today`s electromechanical meter, which has changed little in past decades. The residential electricity market, which represents 90 percent of utility customers and 40 percent of utility revenues, is dominated by electromechanical meters. Today fewer than 10 percent of residential meters are equipped with communications of any kind. What`s more, adding communications to existing meters generally requires removing the meter from the customer site and returning it to the factory for retrofitting.

Electronic meters already available on the market cost approximately $100 to $150 per unit, making them uneconomical for many utilities. In addition, most meters enable only one-way communications, ruling out services such as real-time pricing, which require two-way communications. Whatever the cost or capabilities, purchasing these meters also “locks in” buyers to one vendor for future compatible systems purchases.

How the SE-240 Works

EPRI`s SE-240 meter provides features to meet the emerging market`s needs. The meter is a form “2S” (240 V, 2-phase, 3-wire) meter. Its design includes a base unit with interchangeable, add-on modules. The base unit, currently manufactured by EPRI, ensures accurate energy measurement and features a built-in liquid crystal display for energy readout.

The modules, envisioned for manufacture by any interested vendors, will be designed for two-way communications between customers and energy companies. The modules will offer flexibility to utilities and customers in several ways. For example, modules might provide a choice of different communications media–radio frequency, telephone modem, cellular phone, power line carrier or others. This capability would allow energy providers to use the communications medium most cost-effective for AMR in a particular type of service territory. Thus radio frequency modules could be selected to enable AMR in dense urban areas, while telephone modems could be selected for more dispersed suburban areas. For other AMR applications, an Opto-Port module would allow use of existing plug-in, handheld meter-reading devices.

Modules could also make it possible to offer different customer energy services. A Non-Intrusive Appliance Load Monitoring (NIALM) module could support appliance monitoring capabilities. A CEBus module could enable energy management services. In all cases, modules will be designed to be easily “plugged in” at the customer site without taking the basic meter out of service. The SE-240`s modular, modifiable nature will also offer flexibility for the future by accommodating newly developed metering functions.

The SE-240`s capabilities for two-way communications afford utilities and customers important benefits. For example, AMR, load management and remote on/off functions can help utilities reduce operating costs–a critical advantage for energy providers increasingly competing on a cost basis. Remote diagnostics and outage location can cut outage response time, quickly restoring vital power to customers. In a deregulated market, adding functions for real-time pricing could be attractive to consumers, who are expected to be more price sensitive as supplier choices become available. Other possible functions such as disaggregated billing, prepayment, energy management, power quality, appliance monitoring and security services provide a broad customer service option portfolio and help establish brand identity in a competitive market.

Open Architecture for an Open Market

The SE-240`s most innovative design aspect, however, is its open architecture. Rather than being based on a proprietary platform, as is usually the case, the meter`s design incorporates the Utility Communications Architecture (UCA), a set of open-systems protocols for data transmission. The open systems design makes it possible for modules to be manufactured by any vendor. To facilitate the broadest choice of modules, EPRI will give the interconnection specifications to all interested vendors.

In this sense, the SE-240`s design anticipates the open market`s demands which lie on the horizon. Deregulation will spur competition, allowing consumers an opportunity to change from incumbent utility distribution companies (UDC) to other service providers. With traditional metering, changing service providers would involve meter change-out costs. With the SE-240, while the base unit could be installed and owned by the UDC to ensure energy measurement quality and consistency, the modules could be easily swapped out by any service provider. As a not-for-profit agency, EPRI is in a unique position to support these new meter`s development and open the market to all firms for meter module manufacturing.

Cost and Development Status

The least expensive SE-240`s (a base unit plus telephone modem) cost goal is $30 per unit. Base unit and other possible modules` costs are still to be determined, but are expected to be comparably low. SE-240 prototypes are presently nearing completion. Pilot production is scheduled to start in January 1998, with the first units available by March. At that time, EPRI will seek a limited number of utilities to participate in pilot testing of these first models. EPRI will share pilot test costs with participants. Once feedback from these tests is obtained, commercialization will proceed as rapidly as possible.

New meter development is being undertaken by EPRI`s Advanced Metering Target, which has more than 50 utility members and is supported jointly by the Institute`s Power Delivery and Customer Systems Groups. Also participating in SE-240 development are standards agencies and vendors.

Related Research

In related efforts, EPRI is investigating the development of comparable advanced, modular electronic meters for commercial and industrial applications. The meters would accept functional modules for power quality monitoring, nonintrusive equipment diagnostics monitoring, energy management and standardized communications functions.

EPRI-sponsored researchers will also survey of more than 25,000 households nationally to gauge residential customer response to new service offerings made possible by advanced meters. Customers will be asked to indicate their interest in automatic billing to a credit card, itemized billing showing usage by appliance type, appliance maintenance contracts, home security services, premium rates for energy generated from renewable resources, time-of-use rates and bundled billing for gas, water and electricity services. Commercial customer surveys are also being conducted, including a metering service needs analysis of national accounts. Survey results will be used to evaluate customer desire and willingness to pay for advanced metering and new services.

In addition, EPRI is compiling data on the cost benefits of AMR system deployment and revenue recovery opportunities. This data will be used to calculate benefits including the timely detection of meter tampering and meter malfunctions. The findings will be used to support enhanced meter designs and to aid in accurately justifying AMR system deployment.

More information on the SE-240 meter, the electric power metering industry`s status, and advanced metering products is available on EPRI`s new advanced metering website at http://www.epri.com/pdg/dist/jtargets/am/index.html.

Author Bio

Dave Richardson joined EPRI in 1993 and is responsible for advanced metering, distribution planning and Customer Power applications. Before joining EPRI, he managed the communications and electrical system design and development for a network of more than 4,500 wind turbines. He has also designed generation and transmission SCADA systems and has been responsible for substation relaying and control circuit designs. Richardson received a bachelor`s of science degree in physics and a bachelor`s of science degree in electrical engineering in 1977 from the University of Kansas, a master`s of science degree in electrical engineering in 1980 from the University of Missouri and a doctorate`s degree in electrical engineering in 1985 from Kansas State University.

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The SE-240 meter–a low-cost, all-electronic meter–will help energy providers offer residential customers a choice of services.

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The SE-240 meter`s design includes modules that provide two-way communications between customers and energy companies, and offer a choice of different communications media.

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The SE-240 meter`s base unit ensures accurate energy measurement and accommodates a variety of interchangeable, add-on modules.

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