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Advanced Metering Infrastructure Special Report: Where's the Beef?

What do customers get from AMI investments?

Fortnightly Magazine - September 2007

initiatives by the U.S. government, the Edison Electric Institute, the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, and many other institutions.

As with price and cost, consumers have little or no understanding of the relationship between their power use and power-plant carbon emissions. Those emissions vary by the hour, based on the specific power plants that are dispatched to meet demand. AMI, by providing hourly use data, delivers an essential piece of the carbon-emissions puzzle. The other pieces are available from independent system operators, utilities, and other generation suppliers.

The first of two steps for consumers to manage their carbon is knowledge of their sources of power. Using the same daily and coloring concepts described above, a chart showing electricity use by power plant (see Figure 4, “Daily Power Plants Used”) communicates the relationship between personal electric use and generation sources, using the California dispatch order to identify resources. 4

Hourly AMI data enables the correlation of usage to generation source. However, all consumers receive power from an interconnected grid into which multiple power plants feed electricity. Thus, the actual source of that consumer’s electrons cannot be determined. The chart above simplifies the presentation in a way that communicates the essential message to the consumer: As long as he or she uses less than 23 kWh per day, no coal plants will be used to provide his or her power. 5

The second step for consumers wanting to make an individual difference is the link between their power use and carbon emissions. This relationship is a simple extension of the data presented in the power sources chart, utilizing typical or average carbon output values for each of the various fuel sources. Typical values are as follows: 6

A daily-use chart (see Figure 5, “Daily Carbon Emissions by Fuel Type”) communicates the essential relationship by combining AMI data, dispatch data, and emissions data.

The combination of the power sources and carbon-emissions charts drives home the key message: Usage on peak and usage at the margin have a hugely disproportionate effect on carbon emissions.

Simplifying Decisions

Regulators have the concept of “used and useful”— i.e., that utility investments should be used by utilities and produce useful results in order to be included in ratebase. In large part, for AMI to be used and useful for consumers, AMI data must support simple decision rules. Consumers, driven by convenience and efficiency, simplify our complex world through such rules. For example, “avoid driving during rush hour, which is usually 7 to 9 a.m. and 4 to 6 p.m., weekdays.”

The relationships revealed in the simple charts allow for the development of similar, simple rules, with examples:

• On conservation rates, try to reduce consumption especially after prices increase during the month;

• On time-of-use or critical-peak pricing rates, the customer can affect his or her bill dramatically by reducing consumption during the peak or critical peak hours; and

• To reduce carbon emissions, customers should try to reduce usage on those days when they normally use more than average.

None of these rules would be intuitive, nor