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Utilities underutilizing advanced metering technology, efficiency group says

Utilities are underusing advanced metering infrastructure, missing out on ways to reduce energy consumption, according to a new report from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.

The report, "Leveraging Advanced Metering Infrastructure To Save Energy," surveyed 52 large utilities, finding that most were underutilizing advanced metering infrastructure, which was characterized as smart meters, communication networks and data management systems designed to "collect, transmit, and record electricity consumption data in daily or shorter intervals."

The report, issued Jan. 9, creates six use cases for applying data collected through AMI. Only one of the 52 utilities surveyed, Portland General Electric Co., is making use of all six, the report said. Three others — Exelon Corp. subsidiary Commonwealth Edison Co.; Berkshire Hathaway Energy unit NV Energy Inc.; and city of San Antonio, Texas-owned CPS Energy — use five of the six cases.

The most widespread advanced metering methods used were behavior-based feedback, such as providing customers with a detailed look at their energy consumption, and time-of-use rates, with 26 utilities having implemented these measures.

Newer methods ranked among the least-used, with seven utilities using data disaggregation and four using grid-interactive efficient buildings.

Advanced metering technology measures electricity usage in shorter intervals, typically 15 minutes or one hour, according to the report, which said that the measures allow providers to "optimize generation and grid operations, thereby reducing costs and responding faster to power outages."

"Near-real-time feedback, combined with communications and possible automation, can better inform and motivate customers to respond to pricing signals and change their energy use accordingly," it said.

The council emphasized that just sharing data with customers is not enough. "Rather, the data should be paired with customer engagement tools, pricing and incentive strategies, and programs that enable, motivate and support customers to take action to modify their energy use," Dan York, a program fellow at the group, said in a blog post about the report.

Implementation of advanced metering measures ultimately translates into cost savings and reduced energy consumption, according to the report, which notes that, despite the underutilization of AMI measures, "nearly half of all meters" in the U.S. exist under an AMI regime.

AMI tends to be a large capital expense, and utilities will have to demonstrate benefits if they wish to retain the support of their regulators. Regulators "can encourage utilities to better leverage AMI by quantifying and incorporating benefits from saving energy in the AMI business cases in regulatory proposals, then adjusting shareholder compensation based on performance in realizing those benefits," the report said.

State regulators can also set standards for AMI by establishing "clear and reasonable protocols for data access [and setting] performance standards for metered energy savings," according to the report.