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Integrating Metering & Information Systems

Fortnightly Magazine - February 1 1998

public networks such as cellular phones and require their own slot in the electromagnetic spectrum. They are only financially viable if they are widely deployed in a high residential density. Such radio networks come with a large up-front cost to "build-out" the system of repeaters and network devices. In the past, these up-front costs would be put in the utility rate base and recovered from the rate payers.

Public communications networks would allow the electric industry to escape from this monopolistic and closed model, encouraging innovation. In an open and public metering environment a consumer will be able to interact with their meter via their personal computer over the Internet and run application software to analyze their energy usage. Smart meters can be integrated closely with the cellular phone network and modem electronics to provide metering and enhanced services via public networks without the need for large, up-front investments in private communications or the allocation of scarce electromagnetic spectrum for these purposes. Similarly, an open environment for metering would allow consumers to choose a metering system provider (em whether it be the UDC, the ESP or a communications company. The consumer could choose to invest themselves in a sophisticated meter if they wanted the additional benefits, or they could elect the lowest cost basic service available.

And public networks already exist. They already provide essentially 100-percent coverage across the U.S. Their costs are kept low by a fiercely competitive industry, while the consumer has a choice of network providers and cellular phone products to use. There are 50 million cellular phones in use today and 65 million pagers. By 2002 there will be more cellular phones in use than residential households.

By contrast, the current private network and meter communications module technology would have the industry make large investments in adding communications to existing electromechanical meters. This investment would lock the public into the existing "dumb" meter for years to come with no possibility of innovation, competition or added benefit.

Today, many industrial and commercial customers suffer from degraded power quality because of the increasing number of electronic power supplies in computers and other equipment and microprocessor-controlled motors or drives. These devices generally provide improved efficiency and equipment or appliance life, but they do so at a cost (em they introduce harmonics into the power system. These harmonics, when present beyond system design parameters, can damage equipment in both the consumer and utility facilities, can increase energy losses, and can cause sensitive electronic equipment to trip off line. Smart meters can identify the source of these harmonics so that appropriate corrective measures can be taken. Smart meters save the consumer and the utility money by performing the data collection and analysis. Otherwise this job requires an engineer or technician to make a prolonged visit and install special-purpose monitoring equipment or conduct manual diagnostics.

In the future, accurate data about power quality and service availability will become all the more important as the last regulated sector, the "wireco" (distribution company) falls under performance-based rate making. The frequency and length of outages will supply