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Electric Meter Deregulation: Potholes on the Road to Plug-and-Play

Fortnightly Magazine - September 15 1998

the PSWG on this point and supplied concurring comments to the final report, wrote that ANSI C12.19 was "designed to collapse its structures to meet the needs of the simplest device and yet be expandable beyond any meter in production today." At press time, Itron said it would file new comments. Earlier, however, it had supported the PSWG position, but that was probably because of the grandfather clause that gave it an exemption. NERTEC opposed the lifetime exemption, urging a two- or three-year limit, while the California ORA described the clause as "contrary to the PUC's expressed desire to achieve real customer choice."

Enron, Schlumberger, and CellNet Data Systems Inc. all opposed making C12.19 mandatory. As Chris King, vice president of strategic planning and regulatory affairs at CellNet, explains, "We could implement it, but it would cost money and we'd get no real benefit. If it's a good thing, the market will adopt it. There's no need for regulators to force it on the industry."

Overall the opponents argued that what was much more important, which the PSWG had failed to approve, was a communications protocol at the meter level. Enron, Schlumberger, and CellNet explained further in their joint alternative comments to the PSWG report, noting that C12.19 wouldn't help much without accepting a standard telecommunications technology out of all the various technologies used by the competing metering companies.

George Roberts, director of regulatory relations and strategy at Schlumberger, suggests further that C12.19 focuses too closely on the meter device, instead of the MDMA server.

"We voted for the C12.19 position with the grandfather clause simply to move the issue off the table. It's an immature standard. It does not achieve interoperability and will impose a large cost on the participants, especially on vendors that use radio communications.

"Where standards are necessary is after the validation, editing and estimating - at the point of data communications between the ESPs, the UDCs and the MDMA. That's truly where the rubber meets the road and where the money will be made and lost."

"If C12.19 is so good," asks Chris King, "then why did the utilities on the PSWG vote to make it mandatory for the ESPs, but not for themselves? The motion to require C12.19 for the UDCs was voted down."

Tom Chen, a PSWG member and engineer for eT Communications (a metering reading company) stakes out a middle ground. On one hand, he argues that ANSI C12.19 is "very relevant" in the design of an end device to transport meter data to a computer system. If regulators should mandate C12.19, then, according to Chen, these vendors who already have meters or end devices that meet compliance will have 1 to 2 years advantage over other vendors. Several utilities, including PG&E, are in the process of including C12.19 as a requirement for their future purchases of meter products, he adds.

On the other hand, Chen concedes that "the market need for C12.19 is not known at this time." He agrees on the importance of a standard communications protocol: "The key to open architecture,