Southern California Edison (SCE), one of the largest investor-owned electric utilities in the US and the power distribution subsidiary of the Edison International group, is moving steadily ahead with its plan to rollout approximately 5.3 million smart meters to every household and business under 200 kW throughout its service territory over the next five years.

Paul de Martini,
Director AMI Program,
SCE
 
Serving more than 13 million people in a 130,000 square kilometer area of central, coastal and Southern California (excluding the City of Los Angeles and certain other cities), the Rosemead-based utility has been providing electric service in the region for over 120 years.

As early as 1905 its customer focus was stated, with the introduction by the then company president of the motto “Good service, square dealing, courteous treatment.” Down the years the utility (itself or one if its predecessors) has notched up a number of firsts – bringing into operation California’s first hydroelectric plant (1887), constructing the world's longest and highest voltage power line, and the first line in the nation to be entirely supported by steel towers (1907), drilling the first geothermal power production well in the US (1927), and becoming the first electric utility to make a large-scale commitment to the development of renewable and alternate energy resources (1980).

And it is this pioneering approach that SCE is applying to its SmartConnect™ Advanced Metering Infrastructure program, which will see the replacement of electric meters throughout its service territory – except for the larger commercial and industrial customers above 200 kW, who already have advanced metering – and the first overhaul of its entire metering system since 1949.

The SmartConnect program has been divided into three phases – concept development, in which the technical and financial feasibility of the project was established (completed August 2006); pre-deployment, which is currently under way; and deployment, for which regulatory approval was filed on July 31 with the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) with the intention to start full system deployment in January 2009.

Under the current plan approximately 1.4 million smart meters are expected to be deployed by the end of 2009, rising to 3 million by the end of 2010, 4.6 million by the end of 2011, and the full 5.3 million by the end of 2012.

Early on in the project SCE decided to adopt an “open innovation” approach, working closely with suppliers and others in the industry to develop its requirements. The resultant Edison SmartConnect that has emerged includes meter and communication functionality that (i) measures interval electricity usage and voltage; (ii) supports non proprietary, open standard communication interfaces with technology such as programmable communicating thermostats and device switches; (iii) improves reliability through remote outage detection at customer premises; (iv) improves service and reduces costs by remote service activation; (v) is capable of remote upgrades; (vi) is compatible with broadband over powerline use by third parties; (vii) supports contract gas and water meter reads; and (viii) incorporates industry-leading security capabilities.

Moreover SCE reported in the filing that its SmartConnect will lead to an estimated net benefit of $109 million over the life of the project, with participation by residential and business customers in dynamic rates, demand response programs and energy conservation expected to provide the sufficient additional benefits to justify the project. This positive business case – which also provides a net benefit of approximately $1 billion more than previous AMI business case analysis from 2005 – is attributed by SCE directly to “its collaborative approach with the AMI vendor community and international utility industry to spur development of AMI solutions with the additional functionality and capabilities needed to reduce costs and add benefits of a full AMI deployment.”

SCE also estimates that through reliability and price responsive load control and other demand response programs, the potential for peak demand reduction is as much as 1,000 MW – equivalent to the output of a large power plant.

The leader of SCE’s AMI program is Paul J. De Martini, an economist by training, who has been with SCE since late-2002. His background in the energy industry includes vice presidencies of business development at Sempra Energy Solutions and sales and marketing at PG&E Energy Services, and prior to joining SCE he was a partner at ICF Consulting leading the energy strategy practice with a focus on emerging energy technologies. He is also a Fellow of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

Writing in Metering International (Issue 1 2007), De Martini and Jeff Gooding, a senior systems engineer in SCE’s IT department and the lead architect supporting the program, commented that it is hoped SCE’s “open innovation” approach to AMI will benefit other utility programs and that its on going refinement will sustain its evolution towards a reference architecture for the electric supply chain of the future. “It is Edison’s belief that this will serve the best interests of the utility industry as it makes significant investments over the next decade.”