Framingham, MA, U.S.A. --- (METERING.COM) --- January 17, 2008 – U.S. researchers and consultants Energy Insights have published their North American Utility Industry 2008 Top 10 Predictions report, which analyzes the primary factors shaping the industry and their ramifications for the coming year.

The report suggests that despite factors such as volatile energy prices, increasing capital investment, regulatory change and uncertainty, and an aging workforce, the utility industry in 2008 will be dominated by issues related to climate change. Energy Insights predicts that utility companies will increase their investments in IT systems to measure and manage their carbon footprint, while climate change benefits will increasingly be used to help justify investments in other pre-existing programs (smart metering, intelligent grids).  

The report points out that utilities still look to smart metering to increase operational efficiency (cost to read meters, remote connect/disconnect), but suggests that effectively managing and using meter data will emerge as the most critical success factor for smart metering projects. The writers predict that inability to cope with the scale and the pace of technology change will cause at least one well-documented project failure. Annual spending growth for smart metering in North America will reach nearly 20% over the next five years, with smart metering being the typical first step toward an intelligent grid for most utilities.

Utilities will invest in technologies to enable greater visibility into the grid, automated decision making, and improved reaction time to events. Near-term investments will focus on building the communications backbone, initially justified by smart metering requirements. Additional sensors beyond smart meters will be targeted at problem areas of the distribution network.

Climate change is driving the need to provide more information on energy use to consumers, to encourage energy efficiency. Studies show that in-home displays result in energy conservation, and that customers want to have more control over their energy costs. There continues to be support for dynamic tariffs (critical peak price, real time pricing) to enable demand response.

A further prediction is that not all in-home displays will need to be part of home area networks to be successful. In-home displays will need to be integrated with smart metering systems and receive utility communications, including price information, to achieve their full potential. Standards for home area networks will be a critical success factor for more advanced in-home displays and smart appliance and building systems. In-home displays will make dynamic pricing programs more attractive to customers.

Because the number of customers with Internet access is growing, the report predicts that utilities will offer more rate choices and will enable customers to run on-line ‘what if’ scenarios. Service call scheduling and appointment notification through email, web self-service, and text messaging will continue to be adopted by utilities. The web will become an increasingly important channel for outage communication, and utilities will begin to implement specialized portals on their websites, such as those that focus on green energy or specific business segments.