For many years, meters had served only to measure the amount of kilowatts
per hour being consumed, and the purpose of this measurement was simply
to generate a bill. That time has passed, however. Today’s “smart” meters
serve as gateways into better understanding and serving the energy consumer,
more efficiently operating a transmission and distribution network, and
as effective tools to bring value-added data for competitive advantages
to energy service providers.

The business and operations function of meters has expanded greatly in
recent years, from serving simply as the cash registers of a utility to
serving as the communication kiosk between the energy service provider
and its customer. Electronics, communication and, most of all – connectivity
– are today turning the metering business into a cost optimizing, customer
relations-improving, and transaction-enabling business.

Progressive utilities are discovering that the intelligence gathered
through smart metering can provide a competitive advantage when actively
used to gain operations efficiencies and accountability. They are finding
that smart meters can collectively serve as a powerful marketing and branding
tool as well.


The migration of metering technology from electromechanical to electronic
was the first wave of impact on meters’ journey to becoming “smart.”

Electronics have progressed to the point where meters can now measure
the actual quality of service being provided to the end consumer. The
device has become like a video camera, recording the kind of energy present
at the site, the number of outages, the harmonics present, the phases
that are active, etc. The device has even become a watchdog for utilities,
instantly reporting when the meter has been installed incorrectly or is
being tampered with. All of these capabilities, and more, are available
today in most electronic meters.


The next frontier for metering was adding a communication component.

It started years ago with a simple telephone modem, an electronic device
that enables exchange of data over a telephone between two computers.
But as the communication industry evolved, so did the communication capability
for meters.

Although radio and telephone are the most common communications systems
in use, today’s meters can also communicate via numerous other methods,
including TV cable and satellite. Meters can even now provide two-way
communication over AC power lines, transmitting customer usage data directly
over power lines to a wide area network gateway.

But clearly the fastest growing segment of the “smart” metering world
has been the use of radio.

Today, wireless fixed networks represent the next major wave in how utilities
will be utilizing metering and information. Wireless fixed networks allow
for remote, off-site meter reading, real-time and demand metering for
domestic commercial/industrial customers, online customer outage and power
restoration information, and more.

But before the first two components, electronics and communication, could
help meters serve as gateways into better understanding and serving the
energy consumer and provide competitive advantages to energy service providers,
they required a third, critical component – “connectivity.”


The final frontier to obtaining truly smart metering requires connectivity,
and this could not have come about without initial significant developments
in electronics and communication. In essence, connectivity is metering
data strategically used among the various systems within a utility’s customer
relations – residential, commercial and industrial – and within the distribution
system, to significantly improve efficiencies and provide system optimization.

The world saw connectivity come alive with the Internet. Previously,
there were stand alone computers and there was communication, but the
sum of the parts become larger than the whole when there was connectivity.
Here, connectivity is not only that connection of an individual computer
to a centralized database or a mainframe, but the connectivity of one
individual computer to another individual computer worlds apart.

It is through this complete connectivity of metering data – throughout
the utility organization as well as with the customers – that the concept
of “smart metering and metering data” takes on a form of intelligence.
Connectivity uses electronics and communication to link data and technologies
to provide faster service and new conveniences, such as real-time communications
with customers, providing customers with more choices, and real-time pricing.
It is also significantly improving transmission and distribution efficiencies
by adding ready access to essential system data, providing “snapshots”
of real-time conductions and the ability to make system adjustments remotely.

It is not sufficient to have a stand-alone meter, no matter how smart
it is. It will no longer be sufficient to have an automatic meter reading
system operating in isolation, either. In order to truly bring the power
of knowing and serving customers, energy service professionals need connectivity
to their customers throughout their entire organization.

Connectivity through “smart” metering is revolutionizing the relationship
utilities have with their customers. Consider the impact of increasing
the connectivity of the metering data. For instance, a customer calls
in with an energy bill complaint. The customer service rep pulls up the
customer account with their CIS system. The data provides the address,
the last bill, and the customer’s name. The customer service rep then
pulls in a real-time reading on the customer’s meter. The customer service
rep sees the profile and usage pattern of the account’s last month’s usage,
and looks at the power outage history. The conversation between the account
rep and the customer may go something like this:

Customer: “My bill is 30 percent higher than last month’s,
there must be an error – your reader made a mistake or my meter is running

Customer Service Rep: “Perhaps, but let us look at your
account right now, I show your bill was $50 last month and this month
it is $80, where as last year in this month it was only $60.”

Customer: “That’s right, and so I know it is a mistake.”

Customer Service Rep: “Let’s look at a little more detail.
We show the average temperature last year at this month was 80 degrees,
whereas this year the average is 90 degrees. It appears that you had a
large usage on last Saturday and Sunday, did you have some guests?”

Customer: “Oh yes, that’s right, it was my daughter’s baptism
and we had all the relatives in for the weekend – boy was it hot.”

Customer service rep: “Yes, we show a record of 100
degrees for that weekend, I also see that this next month’s bill seems
to be on track to be back around $60.”

Customer: “Thank you, I guess it sure adds up.”

Customer Service Rep: “We have several programs that
you may benefit from, such as our hourly spot pricing program. For example,
when you had your party Sunday morning, we actually had lower generation
supply rates. Our calculations show that if you were on our spot pricing
rate, your bill would have been $65 rather than $80.”

Now look at the alternative. The same customer calls up but his customer
service rep doesn’t have connectivity:

Customer: “My bill is 30 percent higher than last month’s,
so there must be an error – your reader made a mistake or my meter is
running fast.”

Customer Service Rep: “Perhaps, could it have been because
of the weather, summer months are hotter.”

Customer: “My bill last year at this same time was only $60.”

Customer Service Rep: “Well, we do show that this appears
to be quite a jump, we’ll have someone come out and look at your meter.”

Customer: “When are they going to do that? My meter is inside
and I sure don’t feel like hanging around here all day waiting for someone
to check my meter, why don’t you just credit me $20 and when they come
the next month to read it again, they can check it then? – in fact I’ve
gotten a couple of offers to switch my provider, I think I may go ahead
and try someone else,”and so on.

Here the utility likely has still left the customer unsatisfied and has
to add additional costs to verify the customer’s meter accuracy. And who
knows when the customer will actually be reassured that nothing is wrong
with the meter? In the first case, because of the instant usage of the
metering data connected to all the other customer information, the customer
service rep was able to turn what started out as an angry customer into
an informed and satisfied consumer.

Power Quality and Outages

Another area being explored through connectivity is the ability to allow
a utility to be proactive about its service. Meters today have the capability
of notifying the system of a power outage. When this data is directly
connected to an internal power outage system, a crew can be automatically
and efficiently dispatched to correct the problem. And before the crew
leaves the area, meters can automatically report back that the power has
been restored, without any customer inconvenience. No more having to rely
on customers to call in to notify the utility of the outage. No more unknowns
of whether the fixed line fixed all of the customers’ problems. The ultimate
customer service occurs when a problem is corrected before the customer
even knows there was a problem.

The capability of “connected” smart metering data has an even larger
impact on a utility’s commercial and industrial customers. It is possible
today for the utility to notify their number one industrial customer that
they may want to look at maintenance on their equipment line because,
based on the harmonics that are being generated, he is likely to have
a costly failure in the near future. Connectivity can allow utilities
to not only implement real-time pricing schemes of energy usage, but also
to automatically obtain verification of forecasted voluntary load curtailment
and instant monitoring of the actual curtailment.


Meter data started out being static information. With deregulation, utility
revenue is changing, becoming dependent on a value-based structure that
is, in turn, driving the need for active data.

The process of collecting metering data needs to be an active, value-driven,
Customer Relationship Management and transaction service. The meter is
now part of an overall smart metering data service that reduces the time
and manner of executing transactions, improving operating efficiencies
and improving customer relationships. This can be done when detailed meter
data is communicated in real time, not only to the billing department,
but customer service departments, operations, marketing, rates, and sales
departments. True “smart” metering is when there is meter data connected
and utilized throughout all operations and departments within the utility.

“Smart” metering can today serve as an asset and a sound investment,
rather than a necessary evil relegated to that specialized area within
the utility organization called “the metering department.” Through electronics,
communication and, most of all, connectivity, meters today are lowering
costs, improving efficiencies, and opening up new services and ways for
utilities to relate to their customers.