As a leading European supplier of automatic meter reading solutions, Görlitz AG has launched a new Internet-based Least Cost Metering system. The new technology is based on an intelligent meter modem with a common JAVA®-compliant operating system platform for PSTN, ISDN, Ethernet®, and GPRS use.

Görlitz AG is well-known in the European meter reading market. Its 750 system installations include some of the biggest C&I data collection systems. ENEL (Italy), ESSENT (Netherlands), Vattenfall Europe (Germany), MAVIR (Hungary), SPE (Belgium), SE (Slovakia), and ATEL (Switzerland) are only some of the users of large-scale systems which incorporate the know-how of Görlitz, based in Koblenz, Germany.

The Görlitz Group consists of seven companies with around 130 employees. The headquarters in Koblenz am Rhein – situated midway between Frankfurt and Cologne – develops, produces, and distributes hard- and software for energy suppliers. The Munich-based Berg GmbH focuses on the industrial field. Enercom GmbH and EuroDCS Energiedaten AG are Europe-wide service providers, and the three international subsidiaries in Milan, Vienna, and Zug serve Görlitz’s European customers.

Görlitz is unparalleled in the energy data field in terms of market acceptance of its products. Almost every second utility of the 650 German utilities uses a Görlitz product, and six of the ten largest European energy suppliers trust the competence of the market leader.

CURRENT METER-READING SITUATION

Most of the C&I data collection systems in Europe are based on outbound call technology from the main station to the meter. This is both time-consuming and leads to high communication resource costs. For the radio-based GSM network, the maximum speed of 9,600 bauds cannot be fully used during an AMR connection without risking buffer overflows and missing data in the standard IEC mode.

The European energy markets are in the process of deregulation. This too has an impact on the day-to-day metering business through an increased demand for measurement data, together with load profiles and consumption analysis.

Görlitz has developed a new technology to increase data throughput at a reduced cost. The system is based on the Skalar® – an intelligent and flexible meter communication device. The base system supports various communication media. Moreover, the operating system of the Skalar can be updated at any time. To control reading and formatting processes, JAVA-based application scripts can be loaded and run on the Skalar.

The Skalar comes as a transparent meter data modem with an operating system, the option to download applications, and a standard functionality to read meters with outbound calls.

LEAST COST METERING

The Internet functionalities can be uploaded as add-on individual software enhancements to the standard Skalar platform. If requirements change, an update of the Skalar operating system is easy to implement.

Using the Internet enhancement, the Skalar communicates data in the same way as standard Internet PCs. The initial operation is the meter reading itself, which is automatically initiated by the Skalar using predefined timetables. Then the data is analysed on site and converted into a configurable standard format, such as Edifact MSCONS or any other data format required – for example, the billing data format of the host system or an Excel file. After the successful conversion, the Skalar initiates a dial-in call to the nearest Internet access point and starts the upload to a predefined FTP server.

The Energy Data Warehouse® or any other central EDM system can download the data from the FTP site at any time. If the EDW is used, validation is automatically applied to process 100% complete data to the billing systems.

In general, there is no longer a need to use a dedicated data collection system to read the meters. The Skalar does everything, including communication and format conversion. The data is transmitted directly in a format compliant with local market standards and could be sent to the billing system directly – if meters didn’t fail and if there was no missing data. But, because meters do fail from time to time, a validation level is still mandatory, such as the Energy Data Warehouse.

There are cost savings on telephone fees from using an Internet-Skalar, and the demand for central computing and communication server capacities is also reduced significantly. The use of existing resources, such as Internet dial-in, makes dedicated communication servers and cost-intensive modem pools obsolete. The company network is now separated from the modem access points, minimising the problem of security. Maintenance fees for these systems also represent a cost-saving.

The Least Cost Metering system supports communication media such as GSM including GPRS, the analogue phone network, and ISDN and Ethernet connectivity including wireless LAN access points. The previous operational costs of a meter reading system can be reduced by 70% using the new Skalar technology. It is compliant with most of the existing meters in the electricity, gas, water, and heating sectors.

ALWAYS ONLINE WITH GPRS

Cost savings are the major advantage of the Least Cost Metering system. But the ‘always online’ characteristic of the GPRS technology offers another major advantage to the utility. As soon as the Skalar device has access to the Internet, the data is forwarded within seconds to any recipient on the Web. This allows the easy set-up of online load monitoring of distributed consumption.

In combination with the GPRS tariff offer of the German provider O2, for example, a communication of a complete daily load profile once a day, plus the communication of the actual load consumption value every 15 minutes, creates a total cost of just Euro 5.60 per month.

But having a modem that supports GPRS doesn’t automatically mean being able to use it for meter reading. GPRS is not just a mobile network that can be enabled for data transmission; it is more a ‘subnet’ of the Internet. Each and every data transmission packet has an identified recipient address, so that it reaches exactly the device it was meant for.

In addition, all GPRS devices have an individually allocated IP address and are logged into the network permanently, which means that the data connection is ‘always on’. There is no longer any need to dial in manually. The GPRS modem and connection functions like an Internet subscriber. After logging on to the GPRS server, the modem receives a temporary IP address from the server, similar to DHCP servers in PC networks. So the meter modem needs to have intelligent functionality, such as that of the Skalar, for it to be used efficiently for meter reading. Least Cost Metering is the major result of Görlitz’s analysis of the benefits and opportunities that GPRS represents.

PILOTS NOW RUNNING

The first two pilot projects have now started in Germany: Stadtwerke Hanau and ELE Gelsenkirchen have begun the installation of the Least Cost Metering system. Both utilities expect significant reductions in their meter reading expenditure.

If the technology works reliably, both companies intend to equip all their meter cabinets with this latest AMR technology – which is easy to implement and requires minimum effort. The investment for the new system can be commercially amortised within just 18 months from initial investment.

Another major advantage for large international utilities is the almost unlimited scalability of such a data collection system. Utilities such as ENEL, Essent, RWE, or EdF could read tens of thousands of meters within a couple of minutes. The Internet parallel access of devices is virtually unlimited, and time-consuming data preparation is carried out with distributed resources on-site. Now the central bottleneck at the modem pool in the data collection system is no longer a limitation.