With the new millennium well underway, many North American electricity distribution companies find themselves struggling to power a 21st century world using technologies and management concepts of the 20th century. Under four distinct forces – ageing assets, growing peak demand, the emergence of new power generation technologies, and revenue constraints from regulation and theft – distribution companies are seeking new smarter approaches to operating their networks. In response, IBM sees North American utilities migrating over the next several years to intelligent networks – with automated meter management (AMM) as a key enabler of this concept.

We understand that AMM has different meanings to different people, but recognise that it is becoming more strategic as technology advances and the enterprise value of AMM data continues to increase. We believe that over the next several years, North American AMM projects will increasingly focus on their contribution to transforming the T&D business and the broader enterprise strategy.

Specifically:

  • AMM, along with expanded distribution automation, will be the primary sources of data acquisition for tomorrow’s distribution business.
  • Effective and efficient integration into the enterprise data model and warehouse will be key in converting AMM data into ‘information’.
  • Utilising AMM as a catalyst to help transform the T&D business requires a vision of the future – but more importantly a view of implementation in a series of directionally correct but manageable steps.

From our perspective, the most successful North American AMM projects will be characterised by:

  • Multi-dimensional business cases that consider a combination of many different factors (operational benefits, demand side benefits, customer benefits, etc.).
  • Ability to seamlessly integrate a number of alternative com- munications technologies (e.g. PLC, BPL, RF) and allow for future technologies as they become available.
  • Leveraging of public network communications with utility owned private channels.
  • Using open standards based, and meter agnostic architectures.
  • Integrating existing AMR deployments, i.e. proprietary, low function stuff.
  • On-demand capacity in processing, data storage, and other services.
  • Managing the data/information and integrating with enterprise data model and other distribution applications at functional and data levels is critical.
  • Recognition and mitigation of implementation risk – the technological and organisational complexity associated with implementation – cannot be overlooked.

In summary, since early 2004 the AMM market in North America has been heating up, and we believe it will continue to grow by 15% to 20% over the next five years. While historically utilities have been focused on cost-cutting strategies – which have led many large leading utilities to opt for basic mobile technology AMR systems – all that may be changing.

The primary question regarding AMR technology for most in the future will be whether to go with a basic mobile system that can help reduce costs, or a fixed network and/or PLC-based solution that can provide value-added benefits. Currently about 34% of utilities say they will use PLC or wireless fixed network technology, slightly less than the 40% that use drive-by.

We believe that going forward AMM solutions will need to provide unique functionality to meet differing customer needs. The trick will be finding the optimal solution now – and preserving flexibility for the future.