[Andrew Mackie][April, 25 2007]Previous articles in Metering International have referred to the AMI rollout currently being orchestrated by Victorian State’s government in Australia. The Department of Primary Industries recently hosted a stakeholder forum to update interested parties on the progress of the project. Since this is a very large and complex project with 2.4 million half hour interval meters to be deployed and remotely read daily, the worldwide metering community will undoubtedly be keen to hear how it’s all going.

Due to the previous lack of industry action, the Victorian government commissioned a study which was completed about a year ago. This study showed that there was a business case for the rollout of AMI, even though only a small number of benefits were first considered.

Since then many additional benefits have come to light, which gives confidence that this is likely to be a project well worth the huge investment. The government put in place the necessary legislation last August for this mandated rollout. Although this weighty legislation was designed to make absolutely certain that the rollout would proceed, it appears that the industry players are willing participants. It is expected that now the government has started this process off, it will be able to take a back seat and then get out of the car altogether long before the rollout is complete.

The project currently has three distinct areas being worked on of particular interest to the wider community – defining functionality specification for the meters (and in home displays), trialling the various communication technologies, and starting to determine effective tariff regimes.

The meter functionality specification determines what any meter made for the Victorian market will have to do, including specification for the reliability of the AMI communication system and what data must be made available to the in-home display (IHD). This ‘minimum state-wide functionality specification’ is due to be finalised by August of this year; its current draft is available through the department of infrastructure’s energy page: http://www.doi.vic.gov.au/energy under the Advanced metering infrastructure link. The functionality specification (or guidelines) for the IHD is in its first draft, and does not appear to be available to the public at this stage. Use of the IHD is entirely up to the customer – its installation is not mandated and its function could also be performed by the customer’s personal computer or by a messaging service to his or her cell (mobile) phone.

The communication technology trials are beginning now and are due to be completed, with publicly available reports from distribution businesses (DBs), by July of this year. Which DB is trialling which vendor’s communication system can be found in the ‘AMI progress bulletin’ for March 2007, at the bottom of the Advanced Metering Infrastructure page mentioned above. Although trials have already started, the government still welcomes approaches from other vendors who want to become involved, providing their systems have already been proven in quantities greater than 10,000.

The customer response trial is designed to get a handle on how different tariff structures will affect customer behaviour. It will give a preliminary indication of the extent of expected savings to customers and of the load spreading achievable. Two thousand customers will be involved and the trial will run between now and at least July of this year. Various price structures will be tested, and in some cases customers will be provided with in-home displays. The trials will be run with proper control groups, some of whom will have interval meters installed (to study their consumption behaviour) but who will not be told they are participating in a trial.

There are a couple of other areas where work is being carried out which may be of interest. There is an ongoing discussion about whether interval metering can effectively replace two element meters where one of the elements independently measures consumption in an off-peak circuit. The various submissions on this question seem to suggest that the extra element can still be justified; they can be found on the previously mentioned web page, along with the discussion paper number 2 covering the subject.

The second interesting discussion point is what to do about metering embedded networks. It would seem to be unfair if tenants of shopping centres, industrial estates and apartment blocks had no access to the benefits of AMI, but these customers are in a black hole as far as the utilities are concerned – indeed, even the total number of these customers is not known. This subject was recently covered by an article by Peter Batchelor in the Metering International Enews of 22nd March, with an invitation for comments. Discussion paper number 3 on the previously mentioned web page covers this question.

Finally, when will it all be finished? The project implementation is being staged in order to ease the problems that would otherwise be caused by requiring full functionality from day one. In addition the number of meters installed will build from about 200,000 by the end of 2009 to 700,000 by the end of 2011 to the total of 2.4 million by the end of the rollout, due at the end of 2012.

For the first phase (200,000 meters to end 2009) the requirement will be to do only weekly reads and to have data available to the retailers before the end of the following two days. After 2009 daily reads with data available before the start of business the next day will be required. In that first phase disconnect/reconnect operation timing requirements will be as they are now, but after 2009 a two- hour maximum response time will be allowed. In the final phase after 2011 all the AMI functions must be available.

Watch this space for more news on what is surely one of the world’s most spectacular infrastructure updates. In Melbourne the electricity meters are all installed outdoors, as I stroll down the street I am amazed that I don’t often spot a meter that’s younger than I am. In five years all those old meters will be on the scrap heap, and Victoria will be set up for reaping the multiple benefits of its new advanced metering infrastructure.