By Jeff Lund

Instead of looking for systems that define themselves with this word, consider these questions to ensure that a system is open in ways that benefit your utility.

1. How many suppliers offer systems based on the selected infrastructure?
Clearly, a system that’s available only from its supplier is not open. An open infrastructure is one that many companies have adopted and built custom solutions on top of. These solutions may be proprietary to each vendor, but since they’re built upon a common, open infrastructure they can be mixed and matched, offering the utility competition, innovation, and choice.

2. Is the system interface open?
Is the system open at the top? To fully realise the benefits of an advanced metering system, it must be able to exchange data between disparate utility systems. These systems often use a variety of data exchange formats and mechanisms that have historically prevented the systems from effectively communicating with each other. To address this, the Internet community has developed web services (SOAP/XML), a standards-based way for applications to integrate with each other. Web services use ubiquitous protocols and the web infrastructure that exists in every organisation, so they require little, if any, additional technology or training investment. The inherent interoperability that comes with using vendor-, platform-, and language-independent web services technologies is vital in obtaining the maximum benefits from advanced metering systems for the least amount of integration costs.

3. Is it open to any NAN/WAN backhaul?
Is the system open in the middle? Sometimes called a neighbourhood area network (NAN) or a wide area network (WAN), this component of any advanced metering system is designed to reliably and cost-effectively transport data from meters in the field to the utility. Rather than focus on the data application layer, it is essential that the communications ‘plumbing’ be built on proven IP networking technologies. Only in this way can utilities leverage the investment being made in new networking technologies such as BPL, WiMax, GPRS, and UMTS. This also gives utilities the flexibility to mix and match public and proprietary networking infrastructure to avoid vendor lock-in, reduce system cost, and guarantee flexibly, scalability, and security over the life of the system.

4. Can devices other than meters be integrated with the system?
Is the system open at the bottom? Advanced metering infrastructure is an investment in communications infrastructure as much as metering infrastructure. To fully benefit the utility and to support demand management, distributed generation, and other programmes that may emerge over time, the infrastructure must be able to integrate devices other than meters – such as gas and water meters, streetlights, thermostats, and direct load control devices – into the system.

Unlike simple AMR systems, advanced metering systems provide valuable information that spans the enterprise as well as outside of the organisation. Therefore, it is critical that an advanced metering solution is based on an open platform that can seamlessly integrate with other systems – that is, open in substance, not just in name. Otherwise, systems will experience vendor lock-in, and the potential benefits will be too expensive to realise.

AMI DEPLOYMENT AT LINZ STROM
With unique advanced metering solutions available from eight companies, over 1 million advanced meters under contract, and support from an independent trade organisation (www.esna.com), Echelon’s Networked Energy Services (NES) advanced metering infrastructure is a leading choice for utilities looking for the new breed of open systems. Utilities can choose from a wide variety of advanced metering solutions – all built upon a common web services API, open to the use of any standards-based IP network infrastructure, and open to the addition of other devices beyond the meter – to find one that best meets their needs.

In a recently announced project, Austrian utility Linz Strom will deploy an NES metering system to 75,000 of its customers, with an option to expand to 75,000 more using the Unified IEM Meter Management system from Ubitronix System Solutions gmbh. Beyond electricity metering, this project will use its advanced metering infrastructure to collect data from water and gas meters and manage streetlighting in a segment of its territory.

“The NES system, as supplied by Ubitronix, will offer us substantial competitive advantages in our metering market,” says Josef Heizinger, CEO, Linz Strom. “By extending the metering infrastructure to other residential meters, and by directly controlling high-consumption devices inside the home, we’ve embarked on a market-leading project, not only in Austria, but globally.”