Online Program Aims to Save Customers Money, Quell Demand
If its intended results are achieved, a new online program from Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) could serve an important dual purpose-reducing the amount of customer bills and reducing strain on the electric power grid. PG&E’s interactive Home Energy Survey combines consumers’ input with data about their energy use to help determine where a consumer’s energy dollars go and give recommendations on how to reduce usage and cut costs.
At www.pge.com/energysurvey, consumers answer questions about their home’s size, insulation features and appliances. The answers are analyzed in relation to the customer’s actual energy usage history for the past year to generate a report showing where unnecessary energy loss may be occurring. Results of the Home Energy Survey will point out to customers the cost of operating their appliances and give suggestions on what consumers can do to improve their home’s energy efficiency.
Beyond the altruistic goal of saving money for its customers, PG&E could recognize an additional benefit from the Internet-driven technology. If residential customers heed the survey’s recommendations, demand on the electric system will be lowered. The Home Energy Survey is just one aspect of the company’s summer readiness program, which aims to show customers how they can reduce usage during times of peak demand. The Home Energy Survey is unique in that it gives consumers information about their actual energy usage and tailors recommendations to the individual.
“Getting real-time information about where their family’s energy dollars are going can help people make changes in their home and lifestyle that will reduce their use of energy, especially during periods of high demand on the electric system,” said Steve McCarty, PG&E’s manager of customer energy management. “These changes can add up to real savings.”
PG&E began developing the online survey two years ago in response to positive customer feedback about its mailed and on-site surveys. The utility will continue to offer surveys via phone and mail for customers who do not have access to a computer.
New Facility to Increase Production of HTS Wire
American Superconductor Corp. will build a new facility in Massachusetts dedicated solely to the manufacturing of High Temperature Superconductor (HTS) wire. The new 355,000-square-foot plant is expected to produce 10,000 km of HTS wire in its first year and will be built at the Devens Commerce Center, 35 miles northwest of Boston.
American Superconductor expects to start occupying the building and training new employees in the summer of 2001. Full production is expected to begin in early 2002.
“After reviewing several excellent sites around the U.S., we decided to build at Devens,” said Greg Yurek, American Superconductor’s CEO. “The combination of skilled labor availability, low cost of operations, accessibility to our Westborough technology development facility, a strong incentive package from the state, and flexibility for expansion all contributed to our decision.”
HTS wires carry more than 100 times the electrical current of copper wire with the same dimensions. Key initial applications are in power cables, industrial motors and electrical generators.
Over the last decade, American Superconductor has produced more than 1,000 km of HTS wire for development and demonstration purposes. During the last year, the company increased its HTS wire manufacturing capacity in its Westborough operations from 250 km to 500 km per year to meet increased near-term demand for the product. With the ability to produce 10,000 km of HTS wire per year, American Superconductor expects the new facility at Devens to help meet demand for the product over the next several years.
Schlumberger Wins Major Contracts in United States and United Kingdom
Schlumberger Resource Management Services (RMS), a business unit of Schlumberger Ltd., recently announced that it has been awarded a major contract in the United States, as well as a large contract in the United Kingdom. The awards are connected with recent Schlumberger acquisitions in both countries.
In mid-May, the company announced an agreement with Minnesota-based Northern States Power Co. (NSP) to expand the utility’s existing CellNet Data Systems Inc. fixed network service agreement to cover an additional 850,000 gas and electric meters. The expansion creates one of the largest deployed fixed-network automatic meter reading (AMR) systems in the world.
The NSP announcement came just one day after Schlumberger announced it had acquired CellNet’s existing assets for $235 million. The acquisition was undertaken through a prearranged Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing by CellNet in February 2000.
Prior to the Schlumberger acquisition, CellNet had installed more than 1 million end points for NSP. Schlumberger expects to fulfill the expanded service agreement terms by December 2002, increasing the total number of points under the CellNet fixed network-related contracts to more than 8 million points spanning water, gas and electric utilities in North America.
During a press conference held in June at Edison Electric Institute’s annual conference and exposition, Electricity-The New Millennium, Schlumberger’s executives commented on the acquisition. “CellNet is a leader in wireless fixed networks. Schlumberger has been working with them (CellNet) for more than three years,” said Clermont Matton, Schlumberger RMS’s executive vice president. “This acquisition will result in many benefits to both companies, one of which will be the availability of more funding for research and development.”
“One of Schlumberger RMS’s main goals is to form a much more collaborative relationship with its customers, be a real partner,” said Brad Kitterman, Schlumberger RMS North America’s president. “The acquisition of CellNet will help us reach that goal. Schlumberger is gaining proven technology, data management experience and a significant client base with long-term contracts.”
Kitterman added that the CellNet acquisition brings several technology benefits to Schlumberger. “Schlumberger’s challenge is to fill out these benefits and build out the services, especially in the data analysis area,” Kitterman said. “CellNet has the majority of the AMR fixed network market share. However, it represents only a very small share of the meter market. There is a lot of potential out there and a lot of the market left to gain.” According to Kitterman, there are about 250 million meters in North America and fixed networks are currently reading between 5 and 6 million of them.
Both Matton and Kitterman indicated that Schlumberger has no plans to immediately change CellNet’s business process. They said Schlumberger plans to address three critical factors for success. “Schlumberger hopes to accelerate the fixed network AMR market, add value-added services by tapping into the potential of this real-time data and bring together the two companies’ efficiencies,” Kitterman said.
In another recent announcement, Schlumberger RMS announced a contract worth approximately $800,000 to provide energy management services to the U.K. government’s Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions. Services will include invoice data collection, processing and validation, and energy analysis and reporting.
The contract was announced just a few weeks after Schlumberger RMS reached an agreement to acquire the shares of TEAM (Energy Auditing Agency Ltd.), a U.K.-based energy analysis and management software and services provider. According to a spokesperson for Schlumberger, the acquisition will enable Schlumberger to accelerate the introduction of advanced Web-based data management services and completes the company’s energy management portfolio.
Mario Galletto, Schlumberger RMS Global Solutions Group president, said, “This acquisition will prove particularly beneficial to our customers by enabling us to respond immediately to demands for Web-based data management services. We are integrating the Java-based TEAM software packages with our own metering and data collection technology to provide utilities with completely seamless energy management tools.”
New Reports Predict Bright Future for Meter Industry
According to the latest AMR Report from Chartwell Research, the number of utility companies tapping automated meter reading (AMR) solutions for data collection is up significantly in 2000. But, at the same time, the face of the industry has changed considerably from what AMR pioneers envisioned just a few short years ago.
According to “The Chartwell AMR Report 2000,” utility industry restructuring and the need for improved customer service are enlightening many utility providers on the value that AMR-derived data can bring. But while nearly 75 percent of energy providers that responded to the Chartwell survey are either using or piloting AMR, installations at each company are fewer in number of meter points. Energy providers are targeting AMR mainly toward commercial and industrial customers, difficult-to-access meters, and for other strategic deployments. E-commerce initiatives and Internet-based load profiling services also are influencing AMR strategies.
The study finds that while AMR has been slow to take off in its first decade, the technology will play an increasingly important role in the future for energy and water companies. Thirty-two percent of survey respondents report plans to outfit their entire commercial and industrial meter base with AMR, and the report suggests that these installations are planned for the near future. More than 25 percent report plans to automate their entire meter base, but the Chartwell data suggests this is a longer-term strategy.
More information on the Chartwell AMR report can be obtained by visiting the Chartwell Web site at www. chartwellinc.com or by calling (404) 237-9099.
Another current metering report, “U.S. Utility Meter Markets” from Frost & Sullivan, suggests that, despite price and performance barriers, the utility meter industry is set to see additional future growth.
According to the Frost & Sullivan report, a drive to integrate communications into electronic single-phase meters is expected to tilt the market equations in favor of utility meter manufacturers. Partnership ventures with field service companies, electrical contracting firms and HVAC service providers could provide new growth areas to meter manufacturers, the research predicts.
Opportunities also are likely to emerge for those who develop inroads into net-metering, prepaid metering and distributed generation.
“Tremendous openings exist for vendors that can successfully manufacture and market the next generation of meters,” said Patrick Hodges, Frost & Sullivan analyst. “In the past, vendors have had the luxury of modeling themselves around captive utilities. With the guaranteed rate of return disappearing, the traditional price model is also disappearing. Innovative vendors are likely to introduce communication-enabled, low-priced meters to offset the dwindling price-performance ratio of the single-phase residential meters.”
More information on the Frost & Sullivan meter market report can be found at www.frost.com.