The penetration of AMR systems within electricity metering in Australia shows us that the country has, and is expected to have, a lot of automatic readers catering to the industrial and commercial applications, which is driven strongly by regulations. The only significant adoption of AMR in recent times is with the very large three-phase market, where about 30,000 to 35,000 meters using AMR systems are installed.

There is no AMR in residential areas at present, because there are many economic factors for utilities to consider before they decide to make the investment. The Australian regulators are, however, looking at the possible introduction of remotely read residential meters, and things might change if they plan to regulate on the residential side. Most importantly, the commercial feasibility of AMR systems for the vast bulk of domestic meters is now being considered.

There has also been a low rate of adoption of AMR for large second tier customers except where it is mandatory. Victoria is actively considering AMR at present; the interval meters that have been rolled out have communication support systems where an AMR system can be embedded.

Broadly there are two areas in AMR – the system between the utility and the meter, and the system between the meter and the house.

Some system trials have been performed with residential customers through keypad input, and responses to some critical processes were analysed. It was found that customers were more receptive to AMR systems when there was increased interfacing, in terms of pushing the system back from control by the utilities into the customers’ houses. Country Energy manages to read its  eters using ‘sneaknet’ or manual meter reading, and is currently seeking to improve with some kind of AMR top system.

RF Technology in AMR Systems

In Australia about 60,000 meters for commercial customers are read using automated systems on a daily basis. Typically there is a GSM (Global System for Mobile communication) modem attached to the serial port of the meter, and the meter data agent connects between 12.00 a.m. and 4.00 a.m. using Itron Inc.’s MVRS or MV 90 software. The previous day’s interval data is collected and consolidated by 8.00 a.m., and is then submitted to the National Electricity Market Management Company (NEMMCO). The three most common communication technologies considered in AMR systems in Australia are:

1. PLC – Power line carrier (for MV & LV systems). PLC is particularly suited to rural areas. TWACS – Two-Way Automatic Communication System – is a slightly faster PLC system which can represent a potential breakthrough within AMR for sparsely populated rural areas. However, PLC does not perform too well where there are high electrical noise levels  RF takes the lead in this case).
2. GSM/GPRS (General Packet Radio Service). This technology is already widely used, and is increasing in use and also reducing in cost. Modem costs and data communication charges have been settled after several workshops and meetings with industry participants.
3. RF Technology - This technology suffers from limitation on distance covered (short range systems) and is therefore mainly used in larger cities and towns.

AMR SYSTEM DRIVERS

The Australian meter manufacturers are working hard at AMR systems and are very well positioned. At present the market is attractive, and is expected to peak with Essential Services Commission (ESC) and other regulatory recommendations.

In Victoria, the Department of Infrastructure and electricity distributors and retailers are embarking on a trial which could lead to the regulator requiring utilities to have an AMR system in place if the system can be introduced at a reasonable cost (A$/customer/year).

The interest in remote communications with meters is really driven by the network operators, who are facing irregular load patterns or load peaks. AMPY email Metering’s primary underwriter, Bayard Capital, is involved with a lobbying initiative with politicians and senior management which may create a better future for AMR systems.

AMR CHALLENGES

It is certain that the regulators will be alarmed by the huge costs involved, because AMR systems are expensive, and hence a widespread introduction is uncertain. The network providers should justify the costs by stressing the benefits of shifting load or demand patterns.

The senior management within the electricity industry in Australia is unlikely to address this challenge until senior executives of utilities and politicians adopt some kind of holistic approach to metering systems that is beneficial to all. There is immense data yet to be gathered that needs to be ordered, stored, and processed, which is clearly a significant task.