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Automated Meter Reading: If, Then When?
AMRA's annual symposium addresses potential payoffs and lingering concerns about the technology.
The annual Automated Meter Reading Symposium, Sept. 26-29 in Reno, Nev., finds AMR a year further along in its evolution in terms of both implementation and ideas for application and usage.
But while a few electric utilities have embraced AMR and others will arrive at the symposium ready to make purchases, some uncertainty remains for others as to the what, when and how of the technology.
How Soon is Now?
"People thought AMR was going to mushroom fast," observes Bob Green, president of AMRA. Certainly, the arrival of the 12th annual AMRA Symposium raises the question, "Why the tentative attitude toward AMR?" Numerous opinions are floating about, and while some may seem to conflict, that's actually not the case.
"It's not technology, because the technology is there," says Green. And yet, "Obsolescence is one of the biggest fear factors," says Ron Chebra, executive director, business development at AT&T Solutions and president-elect of AMRA. So the technology is there, but the perception is that it still must evolve.
And then, of course, there is the competition variable that creates a question mark for electric utilities trying to create business plans for an uncertain future. AMR costs money, and a utility wants to be sure it can recoup its investment. One belief in the industry, in fact, is that if it weren't for competition, AMR would have taken off much faster because of utilities' guaranteed return on investment. Green, manager of meter technology services at Duquesne Light Co., says that because of the uncertainty introduced by competition and the possibility of metering unbundling, the utilities are being cautious. "They're taking a 'let's wait and see' attitude," he says.
Ironically, though, it may be the very beast that in the beginning stymied AMR that ends up fueling it into prevalence. Competition and the consumer ultimately will drive AMR forward, says Chebra. "Instead of a utility push, we may see a consumer pull."
But when will all the shiny new technology push AMR ahead? Raymond Saleeby, managing partner of AT&T Solutions, is willing to venture a guess. "In two or three years, 99 percent of utilities will have different ways of doing business," he predicts.
Saleeby and Chebra point out that AT&T Solutions, the networking arm of AT&T involved with AMR, is one of the fastest growing business divisions of the telecommunications giant, with between 13,000 and 14,000 employees. As for AMR specifically, by 2002 electronic channels will at least be an "alternative," Saleeby says.
Meanwhile, Duquesne is one utility that chose not to wait. A utility front-runner in AMR implementation, Duquesne's metering is scheduled to be 100 percent automated by the end of the year, according to Green. "Our management said, 'let's move, and let's move now.'"
What's the Payoff?
Is AMR a futurist technology, or is it rooted in the here and now?
What makes the AMRA Symposium meaningful, Green says, is that it's not just another forum for the vendors to show their wares. "We try to get utility people in