NO MORE METER MONOPOLY?
So they say. Many believe that utility control over electric metering exerts a chilling effect on retail choice in energy. They claim that competitive energy service providers cannot earn a high-enough margin on the commodity alone, but must offer companion services - metering, billing and value-added options.
Yet the road to competitive metering is pitted with potholes. Utilities, ESPs and private meter vendors and manufacturers can be found arguing over a raft of issues. Does unbundling imply full interoperability, with meters designed for "plug-and-play"? Or will the cost eat up all savings from retail choice? Interoperability implies open architecture - setting technical standards - but for which function or interfaces? Is it at the meter, where the customer takes the product, or upstream, where ESPs and utilities interact with system operators and grid managers?
So far the biggest fights have occurred over data formats and communications protocols. Regulators lack expertise; so they formed working groups - ad hoc assemblies of experts from utilities, ESPs, marketers, ratepayer advocates and trade and professional associations. Also taking part are meter vendors and manufacturers, who, given the chance to set rules for the future of their industry, have tended to oppose standards seen as aiding competitors or undermining the value of their proprietary systems and products.
The payoff, meanwhile, appears uncertain.