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Automated Meter Reading: If, Then When?
Meanwhile, other utilities are looking forward to the data mining potential of their AMR systems. Says Stacy McCollum Spahle, interim director of marketing at Nevada Power Co., which is running an AMR pilot program, "AMR will allow us to know how [customers] are using our service." knowledge, Spahle says, will allow Nevada Power to create a variety of services, from pricing options to bundling of services.
The question remains, will one particular technology emerge out of the pack? Chebra says no, because "consumers want choice."
And what's already happened in AMR seems to indicate Chebra is right. Duquesne has found that one technology doesn't fit all. The utility ultimately went with a hybrid system, relying primarily on radio technology, but also incorporating some cellular and telephone technology into its AMR mix. "There wasn't one technology solution to apply to 100 percent of our customers," he says.
Along the same lines, Chebra foresees a market in which metering is only one component of a greater, convergent system going into the home. "Meter reading won't be the primary reason why I have broad band technology in my house," Chebra says, but AMR will be able to take advantage of it being there. The bottom line, according to Chebra, is that technology will follow the need, and not the other way around.
But how do we get to the brave new world where the dishwasher talks to the electric meter? According to Kinsman, for AMR to finally prevail, it will take a combination of utilities and new business ventures working together, because each side needs the other. While non-utility business ventures generally have greater belief in market potential and are hungrier to succeed, they do not possess a full understanding of the risks involved as the utilities do.
"You can't do it with one or the other," Kinsman says, "because each one comes with its own set of baggage."
In terms of the more forward-looking technology, convergence continues to be on the minds of those willing to prognosticate. Says Kinsman: "AMR will be a part of this whole activity to consolidate." Meanwhile, tapping into AMR technologies that not only give a good read but also answer questions such as "How energy-efficient is my fridge?" or can set the dishwasher to operate at the most efficient time of day, are end results that Chebra looks forward to. To get more bang for the AMR buck, Spahle sees potential for "things that go beyond the meter," such as energy management, security services, two-way communications and heat detection for safety purposes.
But change is already here. As Chebra likes to say, "It's no longer business as usual because business is different, and it's very unusual." And with respect to changing views of the end-user, marketer Spahle puts progress in perspective. On the one hand, the industry still needs to come a long way, she says, but she also points out that it was not long ago that customers categorically were referred to as "ratepayers."
Of course, the way for AMR to advance is for