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The EDI Solution: Help of Hindrance in Billing and Metering?

Fortnightly Magazine - October 1 1999

April," he says.

"There are a lot of technical implementation details. We have to define the data sets for these transactions. What exactly are you going to pass back and forth when you do an enrollment or customer switch or a meter read or a bill? There are major things in play; the business rules have to be defined. You are seeing some baby steps nationally," D'Aloia says.

New York has chosen the ASC X12 transaction sets, which are very similar to Pennsylvania's, he says.

"What is different is where you get into different business rules and different requirements that the public utilities commissions have set or that different utilities have agreed to. The details of these transactions are very different from state to state at this point," D'Aloia concedes.

Big marketers like Enron can program their systems to meet the individual standards, he explains. If New York opened tomorrow, those marketers would have to set up New York programs, though states will piggyback other states, making Pennsylvania and New Jersey similar, he says.

Notwithstanding the state-by-state differences in EDI standards, D'Aloia believes that EDI will create a level playing field. Of course, many market participants, especially the small players, remain concerned about the cost, he says.

Furthermore, he notes, there is a lot of pressure for EDI, which require transfers of or access to interval usage or meter reads, to be conducted on the Internet. That would force the so-called value-added networks, or VANs, for data communications to desegregate because the costs of EDI on the Internet are much lower.

Uniformity: At the Meter or At the Server?

Even as EDI standards are prepared in anticipation of metering competition, some meter data providers still question whether competition at the meter is necessary for retail competition.

"We typically will argue that we don't need a specific meter. You don't have to go out and replace every meter to facilitate competition," says Randi Neilson, director of solutions marketing at Itron. Itron is a provider of data acquisition and wireless communication for collecting and analyzing electric, gas and water usage data.

"Where we work without utility customers, such as utility distribution companies, they get concerned if they open up competition for meter reading if they have put a system in like ours and then a particular customer goes to someone else. What happens to that meter? What happens to their asset? They get nervous about making investments in our technology, occasionally, if they are concerned about that asset," she says.

Neilson says there is a cost at the meter level associated with customer switching of energy service providers. "There is a tradeoff. You can look at leaving that technology in place and doing the meter data information exchange at the host processor level rather than the meter level.

"She suggests, "If you came up with an information standard rather than a meter standard, that would be simple and straight forward."

Meanwhile, some utilities have bought Itron's system for automated meter reading and data collection via public or private networks to have a competitive advantage