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AMI Standards: A Work in Progress

Vendors battle it out while utilities await common communications protocols.

Fortnightly Magazine - September 2008

arguably the country’s first truly competitive retail electricity market. In 2005, the state legislature gave the state’s PUC and electric transmission and distribution providers the go-ahead to implement a surcharge needed to recover the cost of instituting AMI programs state-wide. The PUC and utility representatives then spent a year working with meter vendors to develop the necessary AMI standards, while also keeping an eye on AMI developments in California, other parts of the U.S. and Canada. “We really liked the open architecture standards presented by vendors like Itron and Elster,” explains Christine Wright, a policy analyst with the Texas PUC. “We knew we needed standards in place for both the meter’s functionality and the data communications format. And we believed the open approach would be especially applicable to a competitive market like ours.”

In 2007, the PUC published its AMI standards, which are now driving AMI programs at each of the state’s four major transmission and distribution providers—Houston-based CenterPoint Energy, Dallas-based Oncor, Fort Worth-based Texas New Mexico Power Co. (TNMP) and Corpus Christi-based AEP Texas. The standards call for, among other things, the use of the ANSI C12.19 and C12.22 protocols, remote-meter reading, remote connect/disconnect, time stamping, 15-minute data reads, and communication protocols for in-home devices. “When we looked at the competitive market designs and open standards California and Canada were developing, we could see where the industry was headed,” Wright says. “So we feel our rule is cutting edge, especially with the HAN standards, 15-minute data-reading interval, and the ANSI requirements. Sure, our requirements could change in the future, but at some point you have to put a stake in the ground.”

In May 2008, CenterPoint announced it too had chosen the Itron OpenWay architecture and, pending approval from the PUC, also announced its intention to begin deploying some two million Itron meters in 2009. The other three electricity providers are expected to announce vendor selections this year as well, possibly by the end of the third quarter. One key to the selection process, says Don Cortez, Center- Point vice president of regulated operations technology, was the meter’s use of the ZigBee wireless protocol and the fact that DTE Energy (2.6 million electric meters) and San Diego Gas & Electric (2.3 million meters) recently agreed to similar contracts with Itron.

“We look at it from the standpoint of the customer. If you’re a company that sells HAN products, in total you’re looking at roughly 12 million potential customers,” he says. “That means if I’m a consumer, there will be a greater choice of in-home products that interface with my meter. At the end of the day, that’s what drives value out of the meter. The meters allow us to deliver new services and products to the consumer.” Texas’ AMI initiative also is unique in that it actually involves two related smart-grid programs. In addition to the AMI program, a second initiative will create a repository that will accept round-the-clock time-of-use data from all four electricity providers. The new meters will create the time-of-use data, Cortez explains, while the repository will help