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Designing next generation meters

Several electricity and energy industry drivers are converging on the technology surrounding the revenue meter. The next generation of meters, that will include the ability to communicate, need careful thought in terms of design, development, deployment and life-cycle management.

The traditional non-communicating revenue meter has served the industry well, but the next generation advanced communicating meter will play an important role in the future of energy supply and delivery systems, supporting several important functions for both customer and service provider. To reach this vision, however, the meter and surrounding consumer communications and automation technologies must meet many more demands. Moreover the technology will need to be carefully developed and integrated into a much larger overall industry-level architecture.

This article will cover the major elements of first viewing and then designing the next generation of meters and other equipment that will play such a significant role in the future of a much larger dynamic energy industry.


More than just metering for revenue based on simple energy or demand measurements, the future metering system promises to play an integral part in the operation of the entire energy system. The measuring, computing and communications capabilities represented by a next generation metering system mean that it represents a valuable set of resources that should be put to the best use for maximum benefit. Among these future roles for metering are support for the following categories of energy system operations:

Figure 1: How metering can fit into the larger framework

Figure 1: How metering can fit into the larger framework
of an industry-level architecture

  • Enhancing traditional consumer operations such as metering to support ‘spot’ and real-time pricing, billing, change of service and outage management.
  • Providing advanced consumer energy services such as service level metering and support for consumer equipment management, diagnostics and repair.
  • Enhancing traditional power and energy delivery operations such as outage crew despatch, voltage and reactive power management, power quality monitoring and advanced asset management functions like fault anticipation.
  • Supporting new energy operations such as transmission, bulk power management, provision of consumer support for ancillary services, managed islanding and support of distributed energy resource integration.

These are only a few of the functions the metering system is expected to support. This means metering must become part of an even larger picture that engages the consumer in the dynamic operation of the energy system. (See Figure 1.)


When this expanded vision is brought together, the future advanced metering system will play a much larger role than do today’s meters. This larger vision brings widespread benefits, since the metering and consumer communications systems can now support a variety of valuable consumer service and power system applications.

These benefits will be necessary to ensure the maximum value for the future system, since it will be expensive to install and operate. The vision of maximum usefulness will also be necessary to support the challenges of paying for and maintaining the resources. How can this vision become manifest, and how can we pay for the infrastructure?

Vital ingredients include the development and use of key distributed computing open standards and infrastructure. The benefits of migration to open standards are well documented, from capital equipment cost savings due to multiple suppliers to the often overlooked life-cycle costs. Systems built to open standards, however, must have a full complement of capabilities to assist with their management.

It is important to note that systems built to open standards and a robust industry-level architecture can have a measure of independence from ownership and operation models. This provides an opportunity to develop an advanced technical system while the rules of the new energy marketplaces are still in development independently. Open systems can enable a change of ownership and operations between entities, provided a minimum structure of business rules are integrated into the designs. This means the future system must be designed and constructed with a minimum level of robustness that enables rather than interferes with multiple possible business futures.


The future metering system should be carefully designed from the ground up. It is important to note upfront that the future metering and other supporting advanced automation and communications systems are not trivial to design, develop, deploy or manage over any significant scale or time frame. Dozens of utility trials have in many cases not been successful beyond the pilot stage.

There are a variety of reasons for the inability to get beyond pilot stages, including inability to scale to large numbers; proprietary systems unable to integrate to other systems; inability to effectively manage systems; and the constant emergence of new technology. Lessons learned from past failed systems have led to the need to develop more rigorous approaches to defining and specifying systems. Planning should make use of the latest advanced methods for designing and managing systems over their full life-cycle. These methods are found in the disciplines of systems engineering and architecture development. Together they combine to provide more effective use of open technical industry standards.


Technical consensus standards are important elements of the future energy system. Open standards allow competitive procurement and structured innovation that can provide competitively priced products that are able to interoperate. In turn these products can be integrated into enterprise and industry operations.

Without standards, systems are built that are not able to integrate with other peer or supporting systems. The result is often ‘islands of automation’ that limit their usefulness over time. Systems that cannot be integrated and managed can cost more to maintain. Standards development and use are key elements in developing interoperable systems that can be effectively managed.

A lot of good standards work has already been done by the power industry, as well as other key industries such as building automation and information technology development. The envisioned infrastructure will ultimately need to make use of several significant standards now in development.

Most of the key industry standards related to metering, consumer communications and advanced power delivery automation have been under development for a number of years. They include IEEE SCC31, ANSI C12 and those developing in the European communities. Standards represent key elements in the construction of the overall future energy delivery infrastructure, but they are not sufficient in themselves. It is not just one standard that is necessary to bring this together, but rather a coherent collection of key standards that must be integrated into an overall tapestry of systems.

However, another approach must be implemented for all this good work to come together.


Systems engineering is a structured approach to specifying and documenting systems development, using a blend of the latest disciplines from software, hardware and communications engineering. Systems engineering continues to mature, but utilities and energy companies seeking to build their systems of the future should not hold back from using this emerging set of critical disciplines. These disciplines include concepts such as ‘requirements engineering’ and other methods necessary to specify future distributed computing systems. Systems engineering can provide the discipline to specify, document and effectively manage complex multi-disciplinary systems. However, an extension of systems engineering is required in the case of large scale systems for the development of system architectures.


Systems engineering outlines the methods that need to be employed when specifying systems, but systems engineering alone is not sufficient. The emerging discipline of enterprise and industry-level architecture development is necessary to assist with the systems engineering methods. Architecture development takes systems engineering into the realm of developing large and complex systems. It is now applied at critical areas within the Federal Government for integrating the operations of the armed forces and the operations of the Federal Government Agencies. (FEAP). In addition many states have begun architecture development efforts as a way to manage the buildout of information systems.


In 2002, a company affiliated with the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) launched a project called the Integrated Energy and Communications Systems Architecture. Its purpose was to address the development of large-scale integrated distributed computing systems for advanced energy systems. The work built upon past industry standards and integration efforts, and developed a series of documents and a model to assist in taking the industry to the next level.

The initial phase of this project is complete and has been named the Intelligrid™Architecture. The project calls for the use of existing standards, as well as identifying several areas of work that need to be addressed. It represents the initial steps to completing the future vision of the energy system.


We are not there yet. As extensive as the first phase of the Intelligrid project was, it represents only the initial steps toward the future energy system. Architecture development alone is not enough. The final ingredient in the overall construction of this vision should be no secret to veterans who have worked on these systems for decades – it is co-operation. Utilities, vendors, standards organisations, government laboratories, regulators, consumers and other stakeholder groups need to work together to bring the vision to fruition.

The work within formal standards organisations needs to continue, as do projects that seek to apply and refine the standards. User groups can provide additional mechanisms to work together on common issues – recently California has formed the Open Advanced Metering Initiative (OpenAMI). This group is working with the UCA International User Group to develop open system specifications that can complete the vision.

We will see the vision become manifest – but only if we work together.