AMR is becoming an International Technology

The recently released study, titled The Scott Report: International AMR Deployments, examines the use of AMR on every continent. The latest version was released at the Metering Asia-Pacific 2002 conference in Singapore in April 2002.

When the report’s first issue was released in 2001, it showed that 92.7% of all AMR units were in North America and that American companies dominated the marketplace. These results were not surprising because AMR started in that part of the world.

The anticipation in early 2002 was that the previous year’s results would continue with slight modification and remain that way for many more years. Though the new report shows that 87.7% of the AMR units are still deployed in North America (see Chart 1), the activities elsewhere are the big news. The 5% reduction in North America’s market share is a significant change, and is the first indication that AMR is truly becoming an international technology.

Equally interesting are the activities inside Europe, where Ukraine has become the third largest AMR user. As the above table shows, from an AMR perspective, several “emerging” economies have already emerged.

In addition to these highlights is more exciting news. Inside Italy, the large utility Enel has announced that it is deploying AMR to all 27 million of its customers, and will do so over the next three to four years. When Enel reaches its installation peak, the rate of deployment will almost match the combination of all other deployments worldwide! The Enel project is not just a “plan.” By January 1 of this year, Enel had deployed only 150,000 units. They reached the 1 million unit mark in late March and by mid-April were at 1.2 million units. They hope to deploy between 6 and 8 million units by year’s end. (Table 1)

The Enel project will trigger another significant market. Its meters rely on Echelon’s powerline communication technology to send data from the meter to a local collector. This two-way architecture can also support other powerline communication within the customer’s premises. Thus, a market of 27 million homes and businesses will exist that can use other smart appliances and can communicate with each other as well as with in-home controllers. If only 1% of these homes use powerline technology for other applications, a market of 270,000 smart homes will be created. Such a market is large enough to germinate a worldwide demand for smart appliances. In response to Enel’s actions, several large manufacturers have begun to develop appliances that can work with this smart home technology.

At the current time, the most common AMR communication technology worldwide is radio (RF in Table 2) followed by powerline communication (PLC). (In these tables, cellular telephone is considered a telephone technology, not a radio technology.) This table is greatly influenced by the strong interest in radio technology in North America.The utility marketplace outside North America has a different communication focus, and powerline communication (PLC) is the most dominant type of communication technology. Competing powerline technologies have been developed for use in many countries, such as China and Ukraine. When the massive Enel project starts deploying in large numbers, it will skew the table below to overwhelmingly favour powerline communication.The widespread use of PLC is not surprising in countries with emerging economies, which usually do not have large embedded telephone or radio infrastructures. Even cellular telephones do not have large footprints (footprints close to 100% are needed for a technology to reach every home or business). In those countries, the only communication medium that reaches every electric customer is the electric powerline, so using PLC to communicate with electric meters is optimum.

Another reason for the strong orientation towards PLC can be attributed to the types of utilities that are using AMR. Table 3 shows the AMR deployments for each type of utility.

As more water and gas AMR projects are undertaken, this PLC orientation will change because water and gas utilities avoid putting electricity in direct contact with their meters (with the exception of grounding straps to metallic water pipes). For those utilities to use PLC, either a short-hop RF link or a jumper cable from the meter to the PLC medium must be installed. The added cost and inconvenience of such inter-connections will favour the use of RF and telephone technologies for gas and water utilities unless a very low cost PLC connection is developed. (Table 3)

Thus, the proliferation of AMR by electric utilities outside North America is driving the use of powerline communication and the expected growth of the Enel project will only increase the use of PLC outside North America. Though the growth of AMR in North America will remain strong for the next several years, the increased use of AMR in Asia coupled with the large deployment in Italy will gradually shift the worldwide focus of AMR. Over the next few years, deployments will equalize between North America and the rest of the world. If European and Asian utilities make a strong commitment to more automation, AMR will become a truly worldwide technology. In many countries, different vendors will appear that meet the needs of local utilities. It will be many years, however, before worldwide vendors appear with the market influence seen for more mature mass-market products (like televisions or automobiles).

In the absence of a worldwide calamity, the growth of the AMR marketplace is inevitable because AMR reduces costs (in most instances), increases efficiency and significantly improves a utility’s knowledge of its customers. The data contained in “The Scott Report: International AMR Deployments” is consistent with these optimistic projections.

Chart 1 Table 1 Table 2 Table 3