By Jeff Lund

Since the turn of the century, European utilities have led the world in deploying next-generation metering systems. These systems go beyond traditional AMR systems by including smart meters and an advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) to offer valueadded and smart grid applications. As other regions around the world begin to roll out AMI systems, much can be learned from the experiences of these initial European deployments.

Europe has led the deployment of advanced metering systems for several reasons. Compared to utilities in other parts of the world, European utilities have fewer investments in legacy AMR systems. This makes it easier for them to move toward advanced metering systems since they do not have to contend with recently installed legacy AMR assets. Also, the regulatory and political environment has played an important role. The European Union began opening markets and unbundling services in late 1996, and energy conservation has been an important part of European energy policy for some time. The 2007 Berg Smart Metering Report noted that the countries with the highest advanced metering activity in Europe are those with the highest electricity use per household – Norway, Sweden, and Finland – and those with the highest electricity retail prices – Denmark, The Netherlands, and Italy.

Of these countries, Italy was the first to move to advanced systems, with the Italian utility Enel leading the way. Enel has now deployed the world’s largest advanced metering project, operating nearly 30 million smart meters and related communications infrastructure using Echelon’s networking technology. That same proven core networking technology is the basis for Echelon’s NES system, an open, bidirectional, extensible, standards-based infrastructure that has had great success in many other early adopter countries and among first-moving utilities.

The NES system enables many metering and smart grid applications. It offers utilities the tools and information they need to address key challenges such as high electricity use or high rates by enabling them to, among other things, better understand the operation of the grid, deploy new tariff plans over the network, detect theft and tampering, and limit demand in times of need.

Reinforcing these points, Göran Lundgren, managing director of Vattenfall Eldistribution AB, has been quoted as saying “The new [Echelon] meters meet not only our basic demands in that they provide correct metered values for billing based on actual consumption, but they also offer several new interesting functions such as remote control, output control, and various forms of quality control.”

More recently, a number of Danish utilities, including ELRO, EnergiMidt, and SEAS, have decided to deploy an advanced metering system based on the NES system, making it the market leader in Denmark, another country rapidly moving toward advanced metering as the standard for the country. Explaining its choice, Holger Blok, CEO of EnergiMidt, said, “As a large, customer owned utility, it was important for us to provide our customers with a system that is world-class, not only in terms of its reliability and functionality, but also in its ability to allow us to offer new and innovative services over time.”

With energy prices and energy use rising around the world, these early adopter countries point the way toward the future for all of us. Utilities worldwide are being asked to respond creatively to global climate change and energy demand, to enhance their capability to deliver clean energy at affordable prices, and to empower their customers to become informed and efficient-energy consumers. Advanced metering systems play a central role in enabling utilities – and their customers – to meet these challenges.

Already we are seeing the spread of AMI systems from these early adopter countries to utilities in other countries. Russia, Austria, The Netherlands, Germany, the Czech Republic, Australia, the United States, and others have begun large-scale deployments or early pilots of the NES system. By using the NES system, not only can utilities directly benefit from its extensive functionalities and applications, but their customers can greatly benefit from advanced metering deployments as well. There is no doubt that the same key issues that drove the early adopters to move forward will also influence other countries and their utilities to deploy an advanced metering system that offers an open, bidirectional, extensible, standards-based infrastructure that helps them meet their needs both today and tomorrow.