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AMI Standards: A Work in Progress

Vendors battle it out while utilities await common communications protocols.

Fortnightly Magazine - September 2008

“So, right now ZigBee appears to be the leader. You also have the Home- Plug Powerline Alliance and the Z-Wave Alliance, though they don’t seem to be as far along.”

Back-office Build-out

With much of the early attention focused on metering and HAN technologies, experts say it’s easy to overlook the way an AMI roll-out will impact a utility’s back-office systems. Functional and technical standards will be needed to determine, for example, which system actually will send a signal to a HAN device and which systems will receive, process and pass along the information that’s sent back. “Implementing the meter-data management system is going to be a lot of work. It’s as complex as the meter installation,” says SCE’s De Martini. “Of our project’s $1.25 billion capital expenditure budget, we estimate we’ll spend $250 million alone on IT development and integration. It’s going to take a major effort to make all this equipment work as a system. We’re about a year into it and we expect that part of the project to be completed in 2011.”

San Mateo, Calif. -based eMeter is providing the meter-data management system that will serve as the repository for the meter and event data needed to support SCE’s customer billing, energy information and utility operations. IBM Corp. is serving as the system integrator, managing the development and integration of the network management and meter-data management systems.

“It’s in this area of an AMI project that costly mistakes can, and probably will, be made,” says Ali Vojdani, CEO of UISOL, a consulting firm that specializes in utility business integration services. “How, for example, do you leverage the data being exchanged between the automated meter reading and the outage- management system? Exactly what information should go to the meter, which then communicates with the in-home thermostat? You have new devices and applications that will change the way you interact with the customer, which will impact your outage-management processes. The communications between all these functions have to be mapped out,” he says. A customer-information system, Vojdani says, has at least 70 interfaces, and each must be mapped. The telecommunication industry’s TeleManagement Forum (TM Forum) has developed an enhanced telecommunication operations map called eTOM that serves as a reference model for telecommunications industry operations.

“It provides a comprehensive process breakdown of how the industry works end-to-end, including the interfaces between the different pieces of that industry,” he says. “The utility industry needs the same type of standardized process framework. That would help utility’s minimize AMI integration costs across the electricity value chain. That would reduce costs to all stakeholders in the industry. We as an industry have to understand the importance of process integration, which goes beyond data integration.”

Government Oversight

Absent a strong government directive, however, utilities currently have little choice but to work with vendors and at least begin developing AMI standards on their own. And that’s tough to do, because there are a lot of bases to cover and no two utilities have exactly the same requirements.

“To have common industry standards, you need to have a common