Expert: Nearly one-fourth of electric utilities have AMR systems

Spurred by a need for improved efficiency and deregulation, electric utilities have overtaken gas utilities in adopting electronic meters, experts reported at the annual Automatic Meter Reading (AMR) Conference. Experts say he total number of meter sales for the gas, electric, and water industries combined will be about 25 million by yearend and about 50 million by 2004.


Sylvie Dale
Electric Light & Power Online

TAMPA�Spurred by a need for improved efficiency and deregulation, electric utilities have overtaken gas utilities in adopting electronic meters, experts reported at the annual Automatic Meter Reading (AMR) Conference.

The total number of meter sales for the gas, electric, and water industries combined will be about 25 million by yearend and about 50 million by 2004, predicted Howard Scott, a managing partner of Cognyst Consulting and publisher of the Scott Report on AMR Deployment.

�At the beginning of the year it was nip and tuck between which one was larger, gas or electric, but now it�s clearly electric being the largest user as far as the number of units out there for AMR deploys," he said.

Based on the total number of automatic meter reading units already in the marketplace, 24.5% of all electric utilities have some kind of AMR system. Scott estimated 8.1% of electric customers are served by the technology.

About 13.3% of all gas utilities have installed AMR systems, with 15.5% of the industry's customers served by AMR. Compared to the electric marketplace, gas has suffered a bit of a slowdown in the last few years, Scott said.

�This is a rapidly growing area on the electric side. There is no reason to believe that this industry is in any way slowing. In fact, everything is showing that each different segment of the market, no matter how you slice and dice it, is going strong,� he explained.

However, he said, the fastest growth is taking place in the water industry.

�Water is an area where there�s a lot of activity. We have probably 256 more projects this year than last year. That�s a huge increase over the base,� Scott said.

Sales rising
By 2006, sales of electronic meters could reach $350 million, with mechanical meter sales trailing at $70 million, predicted Patrick Hodges, a researcher with Frost & Sullivan�s Energy Research Group. He said single-phase meters will be the major type of meter sold in fewer than 5 years. Schlumberger has about 30% of the single-phase meter market, he said.

However, Hodges rejected the notion that single-phase meters will become a platform for value-added applications.

�I don�t think we�re necessarily going to see a lot of that type of commerce and data trafficking going through an AMR device, because I think on the outside, companies that have a stake in getting that data out are already moving independently of the AMR gateway potential,� Hodges said.

Appliance companies such as Maytag could start doing this for larger customers in growing numbers, he said.

Experts say the market for electric meters is growing at a rate of 2.2% per year, with units of ABB Group, Siemens AG, Schlumberger Ltd., and General Electric Co. holding a 90% market share. With a 35% market share, based on weighted averages, Hodges said Schlumberger is the market leader.

Most commercial and industrial meters are almost entirely electronic at this point, he said, while most residential meters are almost entirely mechanical.

"We think that in the future this is going to change,� Hodges predicted.

Utilities are turning to AMR because meters are hard to read, they want to cut costs, and they are responding to customer needs, said Phillip Dunklin, president and publisher of Chartwell Inc. Many utilities have begun to reevaluate meter reading costs, in response to the unbundling of metering in some states.

He said the cost of having a third party read a meter has risen to 69� from 63� in the past 2 years. In-house meter reading costs meanwhile have risen to 80� from 69� during the same period.

The phone has shouldered its way to the top as a preferred AMR communication method. Dunklin said 48% of utilities surveyed reported using phone networks, compared with only 36% from the year before. By contrast, mobile radio�s popularity has actually decreased to 22% from 33%.

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