The humble energy meter is getting a major makeover. Advanced Meter Infrastructure (AMI) is about to enable what the utilities industry calls the Smart Grid, an integrated system that will turn meters into two-way communication devices and give consumers pinpoint control over their energy usage.
SearchSAP.com recently spoke to Bob Frazier, director of technology with CenterPoint Energy of Houston, to get an industry insider's perspective on the coming Smart Grid. What we heard should be of interest to every energy consumer, especially in these times of skyrocketing energy prices. We also spoke to Maureen Coveney, industry principal with SAP, to discover how SAP is playing a key part in transforming the IT infrastructure needed to support the Smart Grid vision.
Gas and electric meters seem like old technology. How will they change in the Smart Grid?
Bob Frazier: There are automated meters today. You can drive by and read them remotely. The new meters in AMI are more than just automated meters. We can detect their outages. They can make remote calls to readers, reset thermostats, send messages to display units in the house, and control electric and water heaters.
That sounds exciting. Can you offer a detailed example of how a consumer might benefit?
Frazier: Customers could set up all kinds of programs. They could monitor their usage on a daily basis and control it so that, for example, no bill would be greater than $150 a month. If they check daily, they don't have to wait for a shock at the end of the month. Customers could work with a third party to have their electricity usage controlled; for example, they could specify the hours of the day when energy could be used. This is like the beginning of phone deregulation. We're just scratching the surface.
How does Smart Grid shake up your existing processes?
Frazier: There are millions of meters in the field, and we're in mass replacement mode to replace standard meters with digital smart meters. That's time-consuming. But when the digital meters are in, we don't need to get to the access points to read them. The meters grab data in 15-minute intervals and send us radio signals, so we know the usage and also when the meter's broken. That lets us check for patterns. If only House A is down, we can assume the meter's broken. But if Houses A through D are down, maybe it's a transformer that's down, and we can put the right equipment on the service truck and send it out. We just have a lot more data.
How does SAP fit into these plans for Smart Grid?
Maureen Coveney: As Bob said, all of this involves a lot of data. We have to get billing interval data and pass the information to the SAP back end. We have to find the integration points with the communication network. Also, we have to make sure that we tie the asset, customer, revenue stream, and payments together on the platform.
That sounds like a pretty involved re-engineering of SAP for Utilities capabilities. How many people are involved in this project?
Coveney: Probably 200 in all. There are 15 developers on the product side, industry stakeholders from SAP, 10 people from a consulting practice that helps us project-manage this, SAP executives on the sales side, and then customers and their entire teams.
SAP is preparing for Smart Grid not only by tweaking its own Utilities product but also by working closely with customers (including CenterPoint Energy, CLP Power Hong Kong Limited, Consumers Energy, Energy East, Florida Power & Light, Oklahoma Gas & Electric, and Public Service Electric & Gas) and meter data management synchronization partners eMeter, Itron and OSIsoft. Something like a Smart Grid ecosystem is emerging and serves careful watching because it promises to radically improve both the customer and utility experience over the next five years.