Advanced Metering Gets Interoperable

Michael Giberson

From an interview at

The term Advanced Metering Infrastructure is commonly used in the industry, but is often described in different fashions. How does ESCO define AMI?

Automated Meter Reading (AMR) is primarily focused on replacing manually read meter operations. AMI includes not only automated meter reading at a frequency of hourly or less, but also promises a communications network between advanced meters and utility business systems that allows collection and distribution of information to customers, the utility itself, and other parties. It brings together elements of a meter network where data is accessible for direct customer use, as a data source for home or business displays, or “smart” thermostats, controls, and appliances….

Most recently, the concept of AMI has been expanded to specifically focus on the degree of “openness” of the system architecture. Open architecture, while not yet a released standard, is now recognized as a critical trait in truly advanced metering infrastructure architecture.

Why are utilities and policy makers interested in open connectivity for applications beyond the meter?

Utilities today are very interested in the openness of the system beyond the meter, inside the home or business, to ensure that their investment in advanced metering will allow communications to the consumers, and to provide consumers the ability to choose devices, such as in-home displays, that are competitively priced and are interoperable.

The article mentions that ESCO Technologies’ energy management products work with ZigBee, one effort to develop interoperable control systems for use in energy management and other systems. The ZigBee site says ZigBee is “a standards-based wireless platform optimized for the unique needs of remote monitoring and control applications.”

Interoperability is not a particularly new idea. Without a lot of effort, web searching yielded this this comment in a September 1998 issue of Public Utilities Fortnightly:

Few doubt that open architecture, interoperability, can help remove commercial bottlenecks. That was made clear by August Nevolo, president of T&NTR, who represented the Electric Power Research Institute [on an industry working group]:

“If ESPs procure products and services that utilize proprietary standards, the customers will tend to be locked in. This will tend to limit any future choice the customer may have, as there will be an economic barrier to changing suppliers due to products having incompatible metering and/or data communications standards.”

Standards setting is always difficult for industry because it generally tends to produce winners and losers. Still, unless you find a single company to produce your electric power meter, thermostat, water heater, dishwasher, heating and air conditioning unit, and maybe someday your plug-in hybrid vehicle, it seems like automatic home energy management is going to requires standards so your devices can cooperate.