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by Swami Chandrasekaran, Chief Architect – Business Solution Services, Communications Sector at IBM

There have been some key shifts in the Energy & Utility arena over the last few years, which have resulted in a new “reality” for companies today. Changing regulatory requirements, the high cost of energy, increasing consumer demands, and grid security are just some of the challenges these organizations face.

Smart metering is one area getting a lot of attention recently, and rightfully so. According to US Energy Information Administration, the average smart meter penetration in 2010 for residential sector is about 14%. In fact, some experts say smart meter deployment is the most significant trend affecting the utility market today. Why? Because utilities worldwide are very concerned about growing levels of energy demand and the increasing cost of the shrinking supply.

Smart metering infrastructure includes meters that are capable of not only measuring and recording electricity usage, but reporting this data at regular intervals (as often as every 15 minutes) so that it can be available to both the utility and utility customers much more frequently than before. So smart metering is about keeping customers informed — helping to lower levels of consumption, which in turn, lessens the carbon footprint and protects our environment. Smart metering also allows utilities to gain insight into resource use by analyzing customer usage and encouraging consumers to participate in demand-response programs.

The timing couldn’t be better for this technology. Customers today are demanding to manage their own energy use and expect quicker responses to requests for service changes. But the lack of on-demand meter data and inflexible business systems makes satisfying these customers difficult if not impossible.

The bottom line? Smart meters are providing a lot of raw data today. But utilities now have to make use of the vast amount of data and information through event correlations and analytics in order to develop insights, act on them to improve business flexibility and performance. Smart metering also has the potential to transform the utility IT world from siloed applications to fully integrated applications that share data, messaging and communication.

To successfully deploy a smart metering solution, utilities need automated business processes that integrate customer information, distribution management, meter data management, work and asset management, and outage management systems. By automating these business processes and monitoring key performance indicators (KPIs), utilities can achieve operational efficiencies, such as the elimination of field meter reading, improved outage restoration times, demand response automation, fewer truck rolls, and reduced field operations.

At the same time, business process automation can help improve customer service, such as quicker and more predictable timing for interactions such as meter connect and disconnect, reduced billing errors, and support for poor-credit consumers through prepay rate offerings. Along with process automation, decision management (business rules management and business event processing) will let utilities automate, optimize, and govern repeatable business and operational decisions such as those that determine what actions to invoke for a particular meter event (such as a power outage, unauthorized meter move, meter tampering etc.), what work request priority to assign, and mode of communication with the utility customer. Decision management will allow utilities to significantly and continuously improve smart metering process outcomes.

IBM, for example, is teaming with the Mediterranean island nation of Maltato build a smart metering  system that will transform the relationship between Maltese consumers and utilities suppliers, while enabling more efficient consumption of energy and water.  The plans include replacing 250,000 utility meters with interactive versions that will allow Malta’s electric utility, Enemalta, to monitor electricity use close to real-time and set variable rates that reward customers that cut their power consumption.

If at all possible, check out DistribuTECH inSan Antonio this week. The conference will focus on smart metering and new technologies for E & U and how they’re reshaping the industry – and making a better world for all of us.

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October 31, 2014
8:17 am

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