Power utilities’ drive to factor consumer, demand side management into their infrastructure is opening up a new vista for enterprise software developers. Consumers Energy, which provides natural gas and electricity to nearly 6.5 of Michigan’s 10 million residents, today announced it will be the first utility to buy SAP AMI Integration for Utilities software package.
Consumers Energy is one of nine utilities participating in SAP’s AMI– for automated metering infrastructure– Lighthouse Council. Members are working with the Walldorf, Germany-based software company to develop a new approach to integrating automated metering within their overall systems infrastructure at a lower total cost of ownership.
Integrated AMI systems are central to the drive to build out new “smart” electricity grids that make more efficient use of power by factoring consumer demand into grid management. In addition to providing consumers and utilities more detailed information and options to reduce and manage individual and grid-wide power consumption, the installation of “two-way” meters also paves the way for consumers to pump surplus power into the grid by installing solar or other renewable power systems.
“Smart” Move for Utilities, Customers
Consumers Energy’s purchase is indicative of the wave of changing sweeping across the power industry. “We’re moving forward with this software purchase against the backdrop of a rapidly changing utility industry,” said Sue Swan, Consumers Energy vice president of Business Technology Solutions. “Today, our average residential customer uses eight percent more electricity than a decade ago. This software will allow us to provide more information to our customers so they can better manage their energy consumption.”
As reported in the Jackson Citizen Patriot, the Michigan utility in January said it would invest $500 million in AMI. The effort includes installing special thermostats in homes and buildings that could automatically turn down or shut off air conditioning and heating units, as well as lights, appliances and other electronics. Consumers would be able to set parameters via their home computers and wireless network communications, which would also relay data to the utility. Alternatively, they could allow the utility to manage this for them.
The company is moving forward with plans to install around 6,000 smart meters across Jackson County between February and June. They will be tested in 2010 and rolled out across Michigan starting 2011, according to the report.
“We want to give customers choices. They are going to have a lot more information,” Maureen Trumble, director of Consumers Energy’s Advanced Metering Infrastructure Program, was quoted as saying.
The new meters and information systems will be a significant change for customers, and an industry, that has been used to a one-way flow of information, and limited interaction, with individual customers. In order to ease the process, Consumers Energy has built a Smart Services Learning Center at one of its facilities. The Center looks like an apartment – living room with a television and a computer, kitchen with appliances and a utility room, as well as the smart meters and power lines.
“We’re building the infrastructure to a new system like the Internet,” senior program manager Mark Lesiw told a Jackson Citizen Patriot reporter. “It’s a big change for the industry.”