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Smart Metering: CIS Gets Smart

Smart metering changes the back-office paradigm.

Fortnightly Magazine - May 2009

time-of-use (TOU) rates are standardized and implemented in the U.S.”

That’s a good thing too because, as Chebra’s presentation demonstrates, most utility customer information and billing systems are ill-equipped to handle an AMI build-out.

The typical CIS is designed to accept monthly residential consumption data taken manually by a meter reader. It validates the data, applies the customer’s rate structure, places the data on billing forms or delivers it to a separate billing function, and adds taxes and other fees. The bill is printed and mailed, and payments are logged in and credited to the account. The customer’s billing history is archived so it can be accessed by the utility’s call center if and when necessary.

An AMI program will wreak havoc because it will deliver use data on either an hourly or quarter-hour basis. Instead of taking a single reading, subtracting the previous month’s reading and billing the difference, there will be from 24 to 96 readings per day, times roughly 30 days, resulting in anywhere from 720 to 2,880 separate readings per month. Divide that total into three different time-of-use rate slots, and it’s easy to see why most existing CIS and billing systems will need some sort of upgrade.

Upgrade or Replace?

Is it better to replace or modify the CIS? For a given utility, the answer depends on what’s in place right now.

According to Guerry Waters, vice president, industry strategy and marketing with Oracle Corp., roughly 45 percent of U.S. electric utilities employ a legacy CIS custom-built by a vendor and the company’s IT staff. Few if any of these systems will be able to handle TOU data without modification. The other 55 percent, he says, have upgraded to an “out-of-the-box” CIS product that might, or might not, be able to fulfill all AMI requirements.

“Some of the distinguishing features of a CIS handling smart metering is the ability to calculate and bill complex rates—such as time of use, critical-peak pricing, direct pricing, hedge pricing, real-time pricing, etc.—and to send and receive event signals to and from the smart-metering environment,” Waters says.

In most cases, systems will be modified with a “bolt-on” MDM system that will gather the use data, place it in a batch format, and deliver it to the CIS. “Utilities aren’t looking to swap out their CIS. Most expect to put an additional layer of processing in front of it,” says Rich Huntley, energy conservation and demand-response practice leader for Vertex Business Solutions. “An MDM system coupled with a billing engine can aggregate the data into final, bill-ready information and then hand it over to the CIS.”

“It’s very situational,” adds Frank Hyde, principal business consultant at Ventyx Inc. “If the existing system is 10 or more years old, that can be a lifetime in computer years. With our CIS, we’ve made modifications that permit the user to add layers of logic that keep the overall system in tact. You can surgically go in and add another set of codes to deal with the complex rate structures.”

Some utilities, however, already are choosing