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Rising Power Prices: The Metering Industry's Big Break?

San Diego Gas & Electric turns vendor heads with its plan to install real-time meters, but the company could face heat from regulators.
Fortnightly Magazine - October 1 2000

metering systems, in the utility's choice of vendor, and in the consumer's choice of energy supplier.

"Let me tell you what is really going on." According to Rush, "both Southern California Edison Co. and San Diego Gas & Electric are well-versed in the standards. They understand ANSI C12.18, the optical port standard, which requires a physical interface and a blinking infrared light-emitting diode that sends data, according to codes and protocols and format requirements set down in ANSI C12.19. And, as I understand it, the request for proposals in the SDG&E case requires compliance with ANSI C12.18. Moreover, it says that compliance with C12.19 is 'preferred.' And from my conversations with folks at SDG&E, I interpret that 'preference' as a very strong one."

Rush sees this RFP as the real deal for the metering industry. "This puts C12.19 on the map. In fact, from what I understand, SDG&E has received substantial interest and feedback from vendors on its RFP. Here we have a very large order for standards-compliant equipment. I predict that C12.18 & C12.19 will now become the accepted standards in the industry. Heck, Canada has already mandated the C12.19 standard, beginning Jan. 1, 2001, subject to certain grandfather exceptions."

And more than just inviting compliance with the standards, Rush emphasizes that some utilities themselves are starting to embrace standards-moving away from reliance on proprietary technology.

"There are several U.S. utilities requiring compliance with both C12.18 and C12.19 for electric meters. I can't tell you who those utilities are-that's confidential information. But I can tell you is that the rumor is afoot that the Southern Co. [its operating subsidiaries] are requiring C12.19. Thus, this rollout [by SDG&E] is very significant from a technical point of view."

Will standardization make installation easier?

"It can be done," predicts Rush. "But I would not regard this as a cakewalk," he adds. "The C12.19 standard is not easy to specify. There is some possibility that manufacturers might have some different interpretations of what the standard means.

"Of course, if you're after the cheap—if you're after the lowest bidder—then you might go with a proprietary protocol," says Rush. "But that might be counterproductive in the long run. You see, with C12.19, anybody can now read that meter. Not only can Schlumberger, Itron, ABB, and the rest of the metering industry read the meters, but so can and the other competitive retailers and ESPs. And so can a media company like AOL. When that happens, you truly have open architecture."

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