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AMI Standards: A Work in Progress

Vendors battle it out while utilities await common communications protocols.

Fortnightly Magazine - September 2008

slowly. Two important American National Standards Institute (ANSI) communications standards, C12.19 and C12.22, are now in place and have been adopted by most utilities and AMI vendors. ANSI C12.19 standardizes the way a meter formats and stores its data for delivery to the utility, while C12.22 establishes the way the data is delivered or transmitted over a communications network.

As for the functional and technical meter standards, much of the early development work in the U.S. is occurring in California, particularly with Southern California Edison’s (SCE) SmartConnect metering program. After the California PUC directed the state’s investor-owned utilities to begin establishing advanced-metering systems, SCE asked suppliers to go beyond what were then standard advanced-meter features. Among other things, SCE asked vendors to develop a meter that measures usage by the hour instead of by the month; provides remote-service activation; employs a two-way wireless network to send usage information to its back-office systems; and base it all on an open-standards design that will assure compatibility with the future generations of smart thermostats and other home-area network (HAN) devices. In 2007, the utility conducted lab and then

field testing of the new meters to verify projected costs and benefits. In December 2007, SCE announced it had chosen Itron’s Open- Way meter and communications system to service some 5.3 million customers in what is now called the Edison SmartConnect metering program.

Under the terms of the agreement, Itron will supply 80 percent, or about 4 million of the meters, while a second still-to-be-selected meter vendor—one that’s capable of communicating via Itron’s OpenWay standards—will supply the rest. SCE intends to begin deploying the meters over a three-year period, beginning in 2009.

“With regards to open standards, one really important element centered on the interoperability of the meter and the communication system, which moves the meter data to the data aggregator (and then on to the utility’s customer information system),” explains Paul De Martini, director, Edison Smart- Connect. “We started out assuming we would select two meter designs and two communications standards. Our AMI specifications still call for more than one meter vendor, but we’ve settled on the Itron Open Way communications system.”

Among the other keys to the Open Way system is its use of the ZigBee Alliance wireless protocol for HAN devices. As a member of the alliance—a group of companies creating wireless energy management solutions that comply with the same wireless protocol—the meters will be able communicate with any ZigBee-enabled HAN device. Alliance members range from meter suppliers like Itron and Elster, to companies that provide an assortment of ZigBeeenabled home-use products, including programmable thermostats, home-energy usage displays, and electrical outlets that monitor energy consumption.

“Standardization starts with a common set of communications requirements,” Steklac says. “So the ZigBee standards are open to all alliance members. The standards provide each product developer with a way to communicate with the meter and get the information into and out of the home.”

Texas Retail Markets

While SCE was in the process of developing its AMI program, Texas was beginning to develop AMI standards for what is