AMR Project Numbers Up, AMRA Says
AMRA’s July 2001 “Trials & Installations Update” shows automatic meter reading (AMR) activity is on the rise at North American and European energy and water utilities. But while activity is rising, deployments at electric utilities are likely to be small in scale.
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The update, which includes projects launched or significantly altered since January, provides details on 119 deployments comprising more than 5.1 million units at 115 North American and European utilities. Deployments include 59 projects scheduled to involve nearly 650,000 meter sites that were announced in the first half of 2001. Utility representatives report expanding 44 ongoing trials and installations by about 430,000 units. Compared with the July 2000 update, new projects increased 90 percent, and expansions are up 38 percent.
Utility representatives report that they’re deploying AMR technology to boost competitive ability and provide services such as demand reduction, outage and tamper detection, load profiling, customized billing, rate-based pricing, distribution automation, and supervisory control and data acquisition.
Electric utilities report the majority of deployment activity, with 66 projects at 62 utilities involving nearly 900,000 AMR units. Of these projects, 31 are new deployments comprising 379,000 units, and 25 are expansions of existing projects, adding more than 53,000 units. Most electric utility AMR projects are installations, not trials, and most of the installations are small. Only five projects are installations of more than 50,000 units. Thirty-seven installations-many at rural electric cooperatives-involve fewer than 10,000 units each.
Powerline communications (PLC) technology serves as the communications medium for the majority of electric utility AMR projects covered in the AMRA survey. Forty-three electric utility projects involving more than 615,000 units utilize PLC. Besides PLC, eight projects involve hybrid communications system, seven use one-way telephone, four use walk-by radio, two use mobile radio, one uses cable and one uses two-way paging.
AMRA’s “Trials & Installations” reports are available for purchase in the Marketplace section of AMRA’s Web site at www.amra-intl.org.
Utilities Hard-Pressed to Justify Investments in Residential Customer Web Sites
Energy utilities that invest in consumer e-commerce to achieve near-term operational efficiencies will likely be disappointed, especially if their customer base is relatively small, according to Primen, an energy market intelligence company based in Madison, Wis.
In a new Internet study, “What is the Business Case for Serving Residential Customers Via the Internet?” Primen found that the percentage of residential consumers that have done anything on the Web related to energy providers is virtually zero. Over the next three years, online transactions or product purchases is expected to grow less than 1 percent-even though more than 60 percent of residential energy customers have online access. Primen’s findings are based on interviews with nearly 7,000 natural gas and electricity consumers about their online habits-from surfing to product research and from purchases to e-mail.
The appealing proposition that transaction costs for both buyers and sellers can be reduced via e-commerce has led many utilities to invest in the Internet. Energy companies, however, shouldn’t expect near-term cost savings to cover the expenses related to serving or acquiring residential customers, said David Lineweber, Primen’s knowledge development group senior vice president and managing director. “Utilities will be disappointed if they expect that the Web site will pay for itself by reducing customer-service costs, attracting new customers and generating product sales. It’s not happening and not likely to happen in the near-term,” he said.
Investing in Internet services for residential customers can be justifiable for many strategic reasons, but utilities should be prepared to support Web-based service and marketing efforts for several years before realizing a return on investment. “We found that significant Web-based investments directed at residential consumers can only be justified on the basis of faith-not rational financial analysis,” Lineweber said.
Primen found that only one Internet-based transaction for the residential market is likely to yield returns in the near future: electronic bill presentment and payment. Although few customers currently use online billing for their energy services, this number could grow to 25 percent in a few years. That could save utilities $300,000 per year per 100,000 customers. However, use of third-party consolidators or bill distribution through customer-focused portals will be essential for gaining a significant share of customers.
The study may be ordered from Primen by phone at (877)976-4681, or by email at email@example.com.
Report Sheds Light on Utilities’ Diversified Businesses
U.S. investor-owned utilities (IOUs) and their holding companies own thousands of subsidiary businesses. While trading and marketing subsidiaries now overshadow many others because of the sheer revenue scale, these business units are not necessarily the most profitable. This is according to the report, “Diversified Businesses of U.S. Investor-Owned Utilities,” recently released by The C Three Group, an Atlanta-based utilities and telecommunications consulting and market research firm.
The report provides in-depth analysis of emerging and major trends of non-regulated businesses of the top 78 IOUs. Total assets of these 78 companies now exceed $1 trillion, 26 percent more than in 1998 and 9 percent more than year-end 2000. Virtually all growth in this asset base has been outside the core-regulated businesses. While revenues of the top 78 IOUs increased from $347 billion in 1998 to more than $602 billion in 2000, aggregate net income for the group actually decreased from $17.3 billion to $17.2 billion, according to the report.
Deregulation is the driver of most of this spectacular top-line growth coming from energy trading and marketing. However, an additional $80-plus billion in revenues were generated by IOUs from their diversified holdings. The report also indicates that venture capital investments by utilities, either directly or through funds, have seen huge growth over the past two years.
More information about the report is available at www.cthree.net/reports/diversified/index.html.
Cinergy Awarded First Prize for Phone and E-mail Customer Support
The independent NSDI Teleperformance company has awarded Cinergy the CRM (customer relationship management) Grand Prix Award in recognition of its outstanding phone and e-mail support in the public service/utility sector. The award recognizes companies for outstanding customer service programs delivered via phone, e-mail and the Internet and is based on evaluations made by a series of “mystery” contacts to Cinergy’s call centers. (This year’s U.S. competition encompassed more than 2,500 phone calls and 700-plus e-mail/Web contacts.)
Cinergy was among many companies chosen to compete in the CRM Grand Prix event and was one of only two companies receiving a first place in both the phone and e-mail categories.
The scoring is based on performance for pre-defined service criteria, ranging from speed of service and product knowledge to overall attitude and effectiveness of the contact.
“While we’ve made investments in the culture, technology and processes within our call centers, it all comes down to the customer service representative caring about the customers they serve and exceeding their expectations,” said Larry Eiser, Cinergy’s Call Center Services manager.
The CRM Grand Prix Awards program measures how effectively companies manage their customer contacts over distance. This year marked the first year in the CRM Grand Prix Awards program’s 13-year history in which Web-based services, such as Web-chat and Web callback, were rated.
Contract Awards and Extensions
Itron Inc. recently announced contracts in the gas and electric sectors. Clark Public Utilities, electricity supplier to more than 150,000 customers in southwest Washington, will install a $10 million meter reading system. Clark Public Utilities will use vehicles equipped with onboard Itron computers and RF transceivers to collect data from its 150,000 electric meters. The system will be the largest AMR deployment to date by a consumer-owned U.S. electric utility. Itron also announced a contract with Oklahoma Natural Gas (ONG) to automate data collection from about 10,000 ONG natural gas meters. ONG will use Itron’s G5 handheld computers equipped with full-duplex radios to read the meters. The contract also includes 10,000 40G ERT meter modules to be installed on the meters.
Sacramento Municipal Utility District recently signed a contract to receive Intergraph Utilities’ InService Mobile, a mobile data and dispatch system. Intergraph will provide client software for 120 mobile data units, including automatic vehicle location and GPS software, and implementation and integration services.
Northeast Utilities, New England’s largest energy company, has selected GE Smallworld software as its enterprise geospatial platform. The software will help the utility move to an enterprise solution, improve data accessibility, and provide enhanced query and reporting capabilities.
Alliances, Mergers and Acquisitions
General Electric has entered into an agreement to acquire from Harris Corp. its equity interest in GE Harris Energy Control Systems. GE has a controlling 51 percent interest in the joint venture; Harris has a 49 percent interest. The transaction, subject to antitrust approval, was expected to close in summer 2001.
Personnel Changes and Acquisitions
Allegheny Energy Inc.’s board of directors has elected James J. Hoecker, immediate past FERC chairman, to serve as a director on the Allegheny Energy Board.
Gordon van Welie has been appointed president and CEO of ISO New England Inc. van Welie joined ISO New England in September 2000 as executive vice president and chief operating officer.
Kenneth L. Lay, Enron Corp. chairman, has been named the 2001 recipient of the United States Energy Award. The award was given in recognition for Lay’s achievements and contributions to an international understanding of energy issues.
Guy Lemieux, chairman of the board for AMR provider NERTEC Design Inc., has accepted the position of president and CEO of NERTEC. Lemieux came to NERTEC after 12 years as a senior executive at Bell Mobility. He spent nine years as president and CEO of Bell Mobility Radio.
Online Utility Game Set for Second Year
Fantasy Utility, an online game that attempts to replicate the experience of managing a utility company, is back for a second year and another round of play. Potential players have until Jan. 1, 2002, to register for the game, which was created and provided by Severn Trent Systems, a utility-focused software and services company.
The game allows individuals or teams of players to run their own “fantasy” energy and water utility. Players compete for cash and customers by setting utility tariffs and marketing budgets. Players also can set quality and efficiency budgets, simulating real-world spending on computer systems, Web sites, call centers, staff and training. A company’s success in the game is measured by its fantasy share price.
The game is played entirely online, and players receive a weekly e-mail to update them on their position and share price.
Last year’s game attracted more than 600 teams from around the world, with players ranging from utility regulators to school kids. Game Two features several enhancements to the way the game is played and managed. It is now possible to issue dividends and to set up super leagues. The game also has embraced the Euro and can be played in a number of currencies.
Players can register and start playing from now until Jan. 1, 2002. The game’s first “turn” was taken July 13, 2001, but new players may enter the game throughout its duration. Potential players can register or learn more about Fantasy Utility by visiting www.fantasyutility.com.
Bolivia’s CRE Takes on Enterprise Integration
Cooperativa Rural de Electrificaciàƒ³n (CRE) of Santa Cruz, Bolivia, has selected ArcFM and ArcFM Viewer to manage, model and view its electrical distribution network. CRE is an electric cooperative that provides distribution and services to more than 238,000 customers across 13 counties.
Since the beginning of CRE’s use of ESRI technology, database requirements have been handled by in-house programs. As CRE’s customer base has grown over the last several years, the utility found that maintenance of their information was more than their business process configuration could handle. By the first quarter of 2000, CRE realized the need to integrate their commercial and engineering database management systems and to prepare for a future integration of the geographic information system (GIS) with SAP.
Miner & Miner, Geosystems, the Bolivian ESRI distributor and CRE are working to upgrade CRE’s current ArcInfo 7.2.1 system to the ArcGIS 8.1 platform. In doing so, the utility will implement ESRI’s ArcInfo 8.1 and Miner & Miner’s ArcFM to manage their GIS data along with ArcSDE to provide an interface to Oracle as the relational database management system of choice. Additionally, the utility will deploy a custom ArcIMS application in the customer service area over a corporate intranet, with more than 100 CRE users and service personnel viewing the geographical database and providing client services.
CRE will also implement ArcFM Viewer to view the database design in the planning area. Management teams in the office and CRE service personnel will utilize ArcFM Viewer.
Work Planned on Ecuadorian Control Centers
KEMA Consulting is assisting CENACE, Ecuador’ national energy control center ISO, with the modernization of its existing control center. As part of the same project, KEMA is working with Transelectric, Ecuador’s national electric transmission company, on implementation of a new control center. The project’s objective is to implement systems that will allow the two control centers to operate the Ecuadorian interconnected power system in accordance with each company’s respective responsibilities.
CFE Makes $8 Million Meter Purchase
Mexico’s Comisiàƒ³n Federal de Electricidad (CFE) recently awarded an $8 million (U.S.) sales contract to ABB Electricity Metering for its ION 8400 billing and power quality meters. The meters will be installed throughout CFE’s distribution system in more than 100 substations and 600 key customer sites as part of CFE’s revenue metering and power quality monitoring network. The meters will be installed over the course of 2001.
“We needed a metering solution that could support our new direct access billing structures while also helping us verify power conditions throughout our distribution system,” said Octavio Larios Gonzalez, CFE distribution subdirector. Gonzalez said that the capabilities of the ION meters would meet CFE’s requirements while offering an open-ended design that can grow with the utility’s changing needs.
SCADA System to be Deployed in Latvia
GE Harris Energy Control Systems has signed a contract to supply a distribution control system for Rigas Elektrotikls, a subsidiary of State Joint Stock Company Latvenergo based in Riga, Latvia.
With the delivered equipment, Rigas Elektrotikls will monitor and control the MV and LV substations, covering the power distribution network of Riga. The contract includes installation of an XA/21 SCADA distribution control system and a complete communications network solution and remote terminal units, which will be commissioned by local manufacturer Arcus Elektronika.
The new system is expected to improve cost efficiency, fault analysis and repair time. GE Harris now has won five SCADA/EMS contracts in the Baltic and Scandinavian region in the past two years.