Down for the Count: Electricity Meters

Smart meter: a new member of the household actually reduces costs (photo: Frank Völkel)
Smart meter: a new member of the household actually reduces costs (photo: Frank Völkel)

The question of how to shape the future of energy provision will be a topic of public debate for a long time to come. However, the issue of supply is just one side of the coin. For those who want to protect the environment and keep an eye on their wallets, consumption is also a factor. After all, using less energy lowers costs and produces fewer emissions.

To determine the best possible rates, systems of supply, and personal usage habits, utility companies and customers both need detailed data. A joint pilot project involving SAP and the German utility company Rheinenergie will be a significant step toward delivering exactly that.

Set to commence this September, the project will provide 30,000 Rheinenergie customers with smart meters by the end of December 2011. The data these devices provide will be transferred to an SAP back end through SAP Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) Integration for Utilities, an enterprise service package for SAP for Utilities.

Rheinenergie – which serves some 2.5 million people in and around Cologne – already installed 2,000 smart electricity meters in an earlier test phase. This time around, the meters will cover more of the company’s divisions by also rendering detailed measurements of water and gas consumption and making them accessible by computer or smartphone.

Conventional meters now obsolete

Compared to smart meters, the information yield of their conventional counterparts is meager indeed. Rheinenergie has them read once every year, with the resulting amount also serving as the basis for the next year’s monthly rate. Automated meter reader (AMR) systems are newer, but their information only travels in one direction, leaving no means of connecting and disconnecting supply from a central location. Neither of these variants meets the current demands of customers or the market, nor do they completely fulfill Germany’s compliance requirements.

Next page: Smart information

A conventional meter – and perhaps soon a relic (photo: Rheinenergie)
A conventional meter – and perhaps soon a relic (photo: Rheinenergie)
How SAP AMI Integration for Utilities works
How SAP AMI Integration for Utilities works

Clever data preparation

SAP AMI Integration for Utilities, meanwhile, provides companies with service-oriented architecture (SOA) by transferring data between smart meters and SAP for Utilities – a solution portfolio that serves as an industry-specific SAP ERP.

SAP NetWeaver Process Integration (SAP NetWeaver PI) handles the necessary conversion of information to the XML standard, facilitating the constant exchange of data and measurement of consumption in short time intervals. With SAP ERP at the back end, the information is also accessible for invoicing, customer service, and analysis.

SAP AMI Integration for Utilities supports the following functions:

  • Technical master data exchange: Here, meters need to be physically installed, initialized in SAP for Utilities, and configured to provide their information as desired.
  • Meter reading: Smart meters can be read individually or in batches, while time series analyses gather information for reporting and invoicing.
  • Connection/disconnection: The on/off switch for electricity lies in the back-end office, which speeds up the overall process.

Next page: Compliance and customer benefits

With smart meters, less money winds up here (image: Rheinenergie)
With smart meters, less money winds up here (image: Rheinenergie)

Governmental goals

While the general legal requirements placed on utility companies vary from country to country, smart meters often make it possible to meet them. Here are three examples of how the devices are supporting new compliance regulations.

  • United States: Since the enactment of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, utility companies have had to provide private customers with an advanced metering infrastructure and price rates that vary according to the time of day. These rates are to reflect the fact that energy can be provided at more competitive prices when demand is low, such as at night.
  • Sweden: Monthly bills must be based on actual consumption, not on estimates.
  • Germany: Utility companies have to be able to connect and disconnect the supply of energy from a central location.
The smart meter management interface (screenshot: SAP AG)
The smart meter management interface (screenshot: SAP AG)

The benefits of AMI

Customers and utility companies benefit from smart meter data in equal measure. Consumers know exactly how much they are using, which gives them more security in choosing their providers and rates. Armed with information on their peak consumption periods and the devices driving up their costs, they also have an easier time of adjusting their usage.

Meanwhile, smart meters enable companies like Rheinenergie to ascertain their customers’ needs and offer suitable rates. The devices facilitate compliance with legal requirements as described above, and they improve service and reduce outages, as well.

In addition, the ability to connect and disconnect the supply to individual households directly from a company’s headquarters eliminates the need for on-site technicians and brings customers back online faster when they get around to paying a late bill.

For more information on advanced metering infrastructures, check out Deborah Gabriel’s SCN blog, which was also used as a source for this article.