Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) is starting to take off in Australia. In the state of Victoria a government mandated roll-out of AMI is to be implemented from 2009. Paul Nelsen of Itron explains what this will mean for AMI in the land ‘Down Under’.

Paul Nelsen, Itron, Australia

In Australia, utilities are moving towards advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) implementations. This move has been strongly influenced by a recent mandate in the state of Victoria, which has changed the way utilities across the continent view meter data management and data analysis.

With this shift, utilities are embracing new trends and solutions that create a more open architecture in their systems, and allow for a deeper analysis and understanding of energy and water data collected. With more sophisticated methods of understanding data, utilities are able to better conserve resources, manage energy consumption trends and operate more efficiently.

This new technology promises timely and granular data collection from electricity, gas and water meters remotely and automatically. The data can then be used to improve reliability and efficiency, expand customer choices, and create new rates and programmes. AMI promises to improve operational and energy efficiencies, provide more accurate and useful data, and ensure happier customers. With all that AMI offers, data are the foundation of the successful implementation of this solution.

Governmental projections show that by the year 2025 there will be two billion more people inhabiting our planet, consuming more energy than ever before. In fact, energy demand is expected to rise by 54 per cent. Environmental, legal and social pressures already constrain where and how fuels are obtained, generation plants are built, and transmission lines are located. Without action, the problem will become markedly worse.

One key to managing our dwindling energy resources is better energy measurement. In the electric and gas utility sector, Itron’s solution to the AMI trend has emerged as the choice for measuring, and ultimately managing, energy usage in the 21st century.

In Australia, the trend towards AMI implementations has grown because of a recent mandate in the state of Victoria which is influencing the way that utilities across the continent address meter data management and data analysis. With conservation a top priority, utilities in Australia are beginning to embrace new trends and solutions that create a more open architecture in their systems enabling a deeper analysis and understanding of energy and water data collected.

Trends towards Meter Data Management

In the past, utilities’ efforts to collect, store and measure energy and water data have varied, depending largely on regional needs and business drivers. What has not changed, however, is the drive for utilities to better understand data, and therefore make more informed business decisions.

The establishment of the Australian National Electricity Market (NEM) in 1998 was the catalyst for many electricity businesses to implement robust meter data management systems. The introduction of such systems greatly assisted the operation of the market in terms of data integrity, security and distribution.

Now, ten years into the NEM, the breadth of electricity competition in Australia has expanded to include almost all electricity customers. Second generation meter data management systems are now being implemented by many utilities: systems with scale and AMI capability.

Utilities with meter data management solutions provide a more complete picture of current energy and resource use, allowing for greater efficiencies in reads and improved customer service. Utilities are using meter data management technologies to make the move towards AMI.

Armed with a scalable meter data management platform, utilities are now able to implement AMI and harness benefits in the areas of customer billing, revenue protection, forecasting, asset management and customer care.

Why AMI?

The Australian Government’s Ministerial Council on Energy (MCE) has considered this question for a number of years. The MCE commissioned Nera Economic Consulting to prepare a report entitled: ‘Cost Benefit Analysis of Smart Metering and Direct Load Control: Phase 1 Overview’, dated September 2007.

This comprehensive report identified three key drivers of AMI benefits: (1) Changes in demand; (2) Operational efficiencies (reduction in operating costs for distribution and retail businesses); and (3) Improvements in service quality (distribution and retail).

Within the Australian state of Victoria a government mandated roll-out of AMI is to be implemented from 2009. At a ‘Victorian AMI Project Stakeholder Forum’ held in December 2007, the Victorian Government indicated that the three main benefits of AMI.

Firstly, consumers will have more choice to better manage their energy use and to understand their greenhouse gas emissions. Secondly, an improved energy market will encourage new and innovative products and prices, enabling improvements to customer service, competition and wholesale trading.

Thirdly, networks will deliver operational efficiencies, improved network management and utilization; augmentation deferral and investment optimization. Put succinctly, the Victorian Government believes the benefits of AMI will be: choice, convenience, competition and efficiency.

Itron’s solution to AMI

Only within the last five years has Itron been thoroughly examining the benefits and opportunities it can provide to utilities with its AMI solution. This analysis has led to the development of a solution that allows for timely and granular data to be collected from water, electric or gas meters remotely, creating opportunities for conservation and improved efficiencies across the solution.

OpenWay is Itron’s open-architecture AMI solution that has been specifically designed to meet the ever-changing requirements utilities face. The open-architecture allows utilities to maintain a flexible approach to system design through compatibility and integration with complementary technologies.

The scope of OpenWay extends from the meter through to the billing system interface. The OpenWay system is based upon open standards (the ANSI C12 family of standards) that allow for the integration of Itron and third party AMI system components into a distributor’s overall AMI solution (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: The OpenWay system allows for the integration of Itron and third party AMI system components
Click here to enlarge image


The Business Case for AMI in Australia

As previously stated, an AMI roll-out has been mandated in Victoria by the state government. The five Victorian electricity distribution businesses and each of the electricity retailers operating in Victoria must implement AMI IT systems by 2009. The electricity distribution businesses must also commence a four-year programme to rollout AMI to the entire Victorian population in 2009.

Electricity distribution businesses outside of Victoria do not currently have state government mandates to rollout AMI. However, the costs and benefits of AMI are being determined on a state-by-state and network-by-network basis.

Itron observes that several AMI trials, studies and ‘request for information’ processes are currently in progress focusing on specific AMI-related functions. These include cost-reflective pricing, using AMI quality data to deliver timely pricing signals to customers.

Technology trials will prove the robustness of the field AMI equipment prior to large scale AMI deployments, while communication media will determine the appropriate communication technology, or technologies, required to provide comprehensive coverage within an electricity distribution area.

Finally, IT system capabilities to determine whether meter data management systems support both AMI and the utility’s existing and future enterprise systems. It is expected that AMI business cases will proceed, or otherwise, based on the successful completion of these activities.

Recently, Victoria’s Powercor, Melbourne’s CitiPower and South Australia’s ETSA joined a growing list of companies to embrace solutions that allow them to understand and leverage meter data and customer energy use, while complying with government mandates. These utilities, serving a combined customer base of more than 1.7 million, have purchased Itron’s Enterprise Edition (IEE), a data analysis software solution that allows them to better analyze their data through improved meter data management.

Additionally, they will now be able to integrate AMI technology into their existing data collection and management infrastructures, improving the overall accuracy and reliability of data while satisfying local regulations.

IEE is an enterprise-wide data management solution for interval, register and event data for residential and C&I customers. It is a scalable, open-architecture system that manages data from many different collection systems and provides secure, accurate, reliable data to a wide array of billing and analysis systems. With IEE, these three utilities may now integrate their downstream AMI and their upstream enterprise and market systems, the key link in their end-to-end AMI systems.

The utilities will also reduce the cost and time to gather and reconcile meter data from multiple collection systems by eliminating patching, integrating and manipulating different source systems. They will also improve overall business processes by providing a single enterprise-wide data repository that eliminates the need for individual departments to source their own data solutions.

Improving the reliability and consistency of the meter data used for billing and advanced analytics such as forecasting and transformer load management will be another benefit, as well as improved security of meter data with the ability to view audit trails of the validation-estimation-editing process, including change tracking and version control.

IEE also reduces the potential for errors and confusion as the frequency of data collection and intervals increase. In summary, IEE provides an extensible meter data management solution that interfaces to a suite of powerful analytical software applications for complex billing, customer care, demand response, distribution optimization and design and revenue assurance.

Where is Australia headed?

In this pivotal time of growing consumption and consumer demand, AMI is creating an avenue for utilities to improve conservation efforts and streamline operations. Worldwide concerns about shortages of natural resources, increasing populations and even climate change is resulting in more aggressive measures from municipalities and utilities to curb these trends and promote smart growth.

Australia has now emerged as a global leader in the AMI movement. This movement stems from core business drivers such as the continent’s depleting natural resources, as well as its growing population. In recent years, many areas of Australia have experienced harsh drought while others have seen population numbers grow in leaps and bounds. Victoria’s mandate is meant to address these changes and has catapulted Australia into a leadership position in AMI implementations.

Australia’s uniqueness in landscape and dedication to innovation and growth has provided it the means to embrace this new way of thinking, i.e. AMI. With a strong desire for sustainable growth and better understanding of their data, Australian utilities are making significant choices that are leading them down the AMI path.