A couple of weeks ago, the Power & Utilities team attended the 2008 Itron Users’ Conference in Dallas. It was a fantastic event and, given the tough economic times, very well attended (more than 700 people!).  The success of the conference is probably an indication that advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) and Smart Metering projects are still on-track due to the importance of modernizing the power and utility infrastructure.

One interesting discussion I was involved in concerned regulation versus technology. Specifically, is the smart grid a prerequisite for smart regulation or is the smart grid a driver for smart regulation? Traditionally, utilities have depended on regulation to provide the cost recovery incentives for investments in new technologies but “times they are a changin’” to quote Bob Dylan. I would be interested in hearing your comments on this dynamic.

One of the most interesting things we learned was that while there are many Advanced Metering Infrastructure pilot efforts out there, only a handful of real deployments are either actively in the process of utility wide deployment or already completed. These include California (Pacific Gas & Electric), Ontario (Ontario Power & Gas), Sweden (Vattenfall) and Italy (Enel). 

Of course, this signifies that individual utilities are still working their way through how they are structuring their technologies, the implementations and funding.

Also, the question of scale is always a topic that surfaces when discussing smart grid and smart metering projects. How does a utility handle the potentially huge amounts of data that is part of a fully deployed AMI project?  We know from our own work with Itron that testing is a key component of any AMI implementation, to prove out the technologies and scalability issues. We’re proud of the fact that our SQL Server has the performance and scalability to satisfy the demands of these large-scale installations. See the see press release and our discussion in previous blog post.

Which reminds us that while AMI is still a maturing technology solution, we also know that regulatory commissions and consumer advocates will continue to push utilities in this direction. As this dynamic occurs, we continue to encourage utilities to look at the next generation computing paradigm of Software + Services (see video) for the execution of business processes and to provide order to the new flood of data that will come from smart grids and automated metering infrastructures.

We believe that using Cloud Computing and Software+Services models for billing and customer service will may make current customer information systems a thing of the past.  Itron already has customers such as the Imperial Irrigation District using their hosting services for meter data management and we expect that trend to continue to grow.

Overall, the conference offered some real eye-opening insights into the utility industry today.  Even with the global economic downturn we expect advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) and Smart Metering projects to continue to accelerate and move well beyond the pilot stage. We look forward to participating in an even bigger and better conference in 2009! - Jon