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Smart meter manufacturers join forces

Over the past year, smart meters have been both exalted and reviled by electricity consumers. From coast to coast, electric utilities' smart meter deployments have received mixed responses from state regulators, public utility commissions and consumers alike.

So what's the common denominator in smart meter success stories?

That's one of the questions the new Smart Meter Manufacturers' Association of America (SMMAA) may address in coming months. But for now, says SMMAA president Dave Elve (who is also a vice president of Sensus,  one of the SMMAA founding members), "We wanted an organization focused on smart metering. Our mantra is fast and focused on smart metering. We wanted something we could get to pretty quickly."

The six founding members of the association are Echelon, Elster, GE, Itron, Landis+Gyr and Sensus. The presidency of the association will revolve each year from company to company. "The six partners in the organization represent the vast majority of smart meters in North America," Elve said in an interview with Intelligent Utility yesterday.

The mantra of the group, Elve said, is "fast and focused on smart metering -- something we could get to pretty quickly."

The non-profit group intends to focus on advocacy work and education on the topic of smart meters. In announcing the new association last week, Elve noted: "Our group is collaborating on top-of-mind subjects and creating a unified voice with a goal of moving the industry forward through policy. While our companies are competitors for utilities' smart meter business, in the area of public policy, we stand on common ground in our desire for well-reasoned smart-grid regulation and incentives to advance the market."

Immediate key topics for the group are meter accuracy, the RF (radio frequency) emissions issue and security. "The accuracy issue is near and dear to our hearts: some of our members have been making meters for 100 years," Elve said.

Security is an equally important issue to the association.

"It is in none of our best interests to have a catastrophic failure or a big speed bump in the road," Elve said. "That will set us back as an industry."

In 2010, the California Public Utilities Commission ordered an independent evaluation of Pacific Gas  & Electric's (PG&E's) publicly controversial smart meters by The Structure Group. The consulting group tested 750 of PG&E's deployed smart meters, and 147 old electromechanical meters, and found that the smart meters reported accurately, and that PG&E customer billing matched the expected results.

Also in the summer of 2010, Navigant Consulting conducted an independent investigation of advanced metering being deployed by CenterPoint, Oncor and AEP Texas, at the request of the Public Utility Commission of Texas, in conjunction with the three utilities. In that test, more than 5,600 smart meters were tested, including a mix of smart meters before installation, smart meters after installation (that were removed from service and tested in a lab environment), smart meters in the field (using portable testing equipment) and a side-by-side testing of smart meters and electromechanical meters, both subjected to Texas load and temperature conditions.

The study noted 99.96 percent of the 5,627 meters tested were found to be accurate by the American National Standards Institute standards of +/- 2 percent. Further, the study found that side-by-side testing and a review of historical accuracy testing results indicated that the smart meters being deployed "are significantly more accurate on average than the electromechanical meters they're replacing," according to an article published in the December 2010 issue of Public Utilities Fortnightly by Navigant's Mike Rutkowski and Todd Lester.

The SMMAA hopes to include more links to such industry reports on its Web site, as the association grows.

Yesterday's discussion with Elve engendered a number of questions about future plans for the association, and there have been numerous questions posed of the group already. "So far, we've been addressing the issues on the table at the moment - RF emissions and opt-out," Elve said. He added that the group is trying to keep manageable goals at the forefront for the moment.

"We want to be nimble. There's no wheel reinvention here -- we don't want to tread ground that's already been trodden," he said.

But the group is also looking for input from stakeholders: "What other things do you want us to do? What do you want to hear from us?"

Where would you like to see the SMMAA focus its future efforts? What would be most helpful to the industry as a whole, in your opinion? Let's discuss.

Kate Rowland
Editor-in-chief, Intelligent Utility magazine
Twitter: @katerowland2

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