Technology in general, and smart meters and automated metering infrastructure (AMI) in particular, are seen as critical elements for helping to meet the utility industry’s current challenges, according to Platts/Capgemini’s latest utilities executive study.

In the study involving nearly 100 high level executives from the North American electric and natural gas industry, 27 percent rated smart meters and 25 percent rated AMI as “very important” for the industry. Asked about their current level of involvement in AMI, among other areas, more than a quarter had fully implemented AMI and 19 percent had fully implemented smart meters, while more than half were in partial implementation, piloting, or testing of AMI, smart meters and smart grid technologies.

In addition to the utilisation of new technology the other top critical issues facing the energy industry were found to be the environment, regulation, workforce management and building new infrastructure.

Primary environmental concerns relate to the costs associated with meeting environmental regulations, as well as the costs associated with incorporating renewable resources into the fuel mix. These increased costs will likely impact monthly bills, adding to the concerns faced dealing with public opinion.

The most pressing workforce management issue is continuity as the workforce ages, while a new element is increased competition for talent, both locally and globally, as industry demand increases. Infrastructure concerns surround cost recovery for new generation construction and new transmission, with doubt that solutions will be resolved in the near future.

Looking to the future the respondents expect the energy industry will face increased environmental regulation, increased focus on conservation and energy efficiency, increased inclusion of renewables and nuclear energy in the fuel mix, and continued volatility in natural gas prices. However, they do not expect increased industry consolidation, an increase in outsourcing of non-core functions, increased collaboration among industry leaders, or significant movement away from deregulation.