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Meter Markets: A New Value Proposition

Fortnightly Magazine - September 1 1997

commercial and industrial customers, who are dispersed by geography, we believe that the economics will work against separate physical proprietary network, but in favor of increment use of already existing public networks."

Another aspect of the network debate is whether two-way communications will prove cost effective, and if so, where will the computer intelligence reside? Inside the meter, at the network server, or both?

"The current technologies don't conduct two-way communications very well," says Masiello.

"If a customer is buying power with real-time pricing, it will need to know the real-time price from the energy service provider. But who will provide that? Through the meter, or provided by the energy service company?

"Initial economics favors leaving 'dumb' meters in place with simple plug-in communications modules, but that's not a good technological answer for the long term.

"For a large account, you can start talking about providing price information through a computer on the site, to link with the energy service provider. That's what we offer in our Envision product.

But for the residential customer, Masiello believes the answer to real-time pricing will come through the meter.

"We've conducted a residential pilot project in Ohio with American Electric Power, using TransText. Customers like it like that - through the meter."

Consumer Privacy

"So the question on the table that is being hotly debated in the workshops is how much of this customer data should be available," notes Sue Scott.

(Scott had just come back from California where she had attended on July 7 and 8 the workshop on Meter & Data Communications Standards, one of three workshops on direct access implementation focused on metering issues. The MDCS workshop, which includes representatives from CellNet, Itron, Schlumberger and other vendors, released its draft report on July 15, as did the workshop on Retail Settlement and Information Flow. The third group, the Customer Information Data Base Workshop, had not yet filed by press time.)%n4%n

Masiello adds: Some people have suggested that the data must be provided on a geographic basis, such as by ZIP code. That restriction is not imposed by the technology itself, but to protect consumer privacy.

"By aggregating data before it is released - barring release of customer-specific data - the meter service company will be able to make at least some use of the information, while still protecting consumer privacy.

"We're wrestling with these questions - it's sort of like campaign finance reform."

"A lot of these issues will be left to the market to decide," adds Scott.

Technical Certification

Of course, no set of rules or network configuration will work if the meter doesn't. It's there - in the area of technical certification and inspection - that competitive metering will bring about profound changes.

"It came up big in the California workshops," explains Scott. "Who tests the meters? Who certifies them?"

Traditionally, it has been the electric utilities themselves that have certified electric meters. But with a competitive market looming, that won't work any more, both because of competition to provide metering services and because of tomorrow's greater need to assure