Volume 13 | Issue 2 | Year 2010

In many corners of the globe, in regions defined by different languages and climates, there’s a piece of Smart Grid technology at work, courtesy of the innovators at Elster.
While the company seems a fresh-faced enterprise, Elster draws from a century-long legacy that advanced electrical usage and, in turn, economic growth in the global regions that it has impacted.

Comprised of businesses rooted in the utility industry for more than 100 years, Elster is one of the world’s largest providers of electricity, gas and water meters, and related communications, networking and software solutions, which are key components for enabling energy efficiency and conservation. Its products and solutions are widely used by customers in the Smart Metering/Smart Grid and AMI markets.

Elster also has one of the world’s most extensive installed meter bases, with more than 200 million metering devices deployed over the course of the last 10 years. It sells its products and services in more than 130 countries across electricity, gas, water and multi-utility applications for residential, commercial and industrial customers. Further, the company enjoys a reputation as a leading innovator, and it plays an important role in shaping industry standards related to performance, reliability, accuracy and functionality.

Over the last decade, Elster turned its eyes toward developing technology for the Smart Grid. The concept, which has dominated the North American electricity market, involves a combination of technologies that help utilities service customers more reliably and more efficiently, explains Victor Sitton, vice president of market management, Elster Solutions. “It also includes the notion of better renewables and alternative generation. It’s fast and responsive and layered with communication standards. It has the ability to monitor and control infrastructure, and it connects consumers in new ways so they become active players in their utility usage.”

In North America and Europe, he adds, “the desire to put in a Smart Grid drives our business.”

To enhance this intelligence network Elster has created the EnergyAxis® System, a field-proven Smart Grid solution with more than 3.5 million metering and grid monitoring and control devices deployed with utilities across North America. It enables utilities to:

  • realize operational efficiencies and protect utility assets;
  • implement demand response programs that can conserve resources and reduce costs, especially during periods of peak demand;
  • improve customer service;
  • reduce outage response and repair time;
  • provide real-time information to end consumers to allow them to better manage their energy consumption;
  • conserve environmental and economic resources by reducing the loss of electricity, gas and water as they move from the supply source to homes and businesses.

After deploying the technology at numerous utility sites, Elster proved the effectiveness of EnergyAxis. For instance, Consumers Energy, a major Michigan utility, installed Elster’s EnergyAxis residential and commercial smart meters as part of its Smart Grid pilot program this spring and then used the results of that program to help shape its future Smart Grid investment decisions. The principal subsidiary of CMS Energy, Consumers Energy provides natural gas and electricity to nearly 6.5 million of Michigan’s 10 million residents in all 68 of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula counties. “After seeing the successful large scale deployments of EnergyAxis with other utilities, and testing it extensively in our labs, we are looking forward to seeing how the EnergyAxis solution will perform in our system and how this technology could support our efforts to provide efficient and cost-effective service to customers,” said Wayne Longcore, Consumers Energy’s Director of Enterprise Architecture and Standards.

In addition to the pilot program, Consumers Energy’s Smart Services Learning Center (SSLC) is also testing a variety of state-of-the-art Elster Smart Grid technologies. Located at the utility’s Jackson Service Center, the SSLC includes a 2,500-square-foot facility that tests and demonstrates how Smart Grid technology will improve service and convenience for consumers and can help them conserve energy and save money.

Elster has also been involved in the Salt River Project (SRP), one of the largest U.S. public power utilities (it provides electricity and water services to more than 900,000 customers in Phoenix, Ariz.). To create significant cost savings, reduce operational expenses and offer new customer services, SRP turned to Elster’s EnergyAxis System. EnergyAxis’ reliable network uses a range of WAN technology options as well as a reliable two-way radio frequency (RF) communications system to retrieve metering and monitoring information directly from meters and grid sensors. It also sends control messages to various grid and metering devices. The communication network uses a spread spectrum, frequency-hopping technology with self-registration. This provides secure, reliable communications between network elements and data collectors (which Elster calls “gatekeepers”). This technology enables individual network devices to act as repeaters, creating dynamic dual communication paths that optimize the reliability of the communication link.

To date, Salt River Project has installed over 487,000 residential and commercial endpoints equipped with the EnergyAxis network interface card (EA_NIC). Approximately 60 percent (276,000) of SRP’s EnergyAxis meters are equipped with remote connects and disconnects and other work orders without a field visit, saving SRP an estimated 595,000 miles and 59,000 gallons of fuel.

Every REX meter in the SRP system is programmed to collect time-of-use (TOU) data on a daily basis. This allows SRP to offer TOU rates to customers who would not normally benefit from this option because of access restrictions. For customers who select TOU rates, the switch is done almost immediately without the need for a field visit. Since deploying Elster smart meters, SRP has experienced a 20-percent increase in the TOU rate participation. Customers have easy access to daily TOU data via the Web. Convenient e-notification alerts are also available.

“The savings we have seen from our automated daily reads and being able to remotely handle service calls from the office makes the system virtually pay for itself. Our operational expenses keep going lower as we expand the number of meters in the field,” said Scott Trout, Manager, Federal Stimulus Program for SRP.

EnergyAxis, sums up Sitton, “is smart metering, providing data that allows the utility to create a rate structure so the consumer has incentive to shift use to other parts of the day. The shift of loads gives the utility a break from having to power up more generation, which aligns with environmental and sustainability efforts. The EnergyAxis system also creates a connection with the consumer and gives the ability to report outages more efficiently. A utility can pinpoint where the power is out and get services back on quicker. It also gives them the necessary network capabilities to reroute power around a fault or better incorporate alternative generation technologies such as wind and solar. One of the core elements is that it creates a two-way communication network with more monitoring and communication.”

Elster has been selling its EnergyAxis system since 2003. Subsequently, more than 70 systems have been installed, amounting to 3.5 million meters read daily. The technology is spread across the hemisphere – from the United States, Canada, the Caribbean, Honduras, Mexico and Costa Rica all the way to New Zealand.

Having grown through the acquisition of numerous companies operating in the electricity technology market, Elster has been energized by the operations and innovations offered by these companies, such as sister company EnergyICT (a 2009 Elster acquisition), a market leader in highly advanced energy information and communication technology solutions and services to utilities, energy suppliers, and end customers. EnergyICT helps utilities build smarter grids with EIServer® Meter Data Management software, which acts as a central Meter Data Management (MDM) platform for utilities and as an Energy Management System for end customers and suppliers. In addition, EnergyICT’s WebRTU® hardware and EIServer software helps end consumers reduce energy and carbon footprint through continuous measurement and monitoring of their energy usage.

“MDM is the hub,” Sitton says. “It makes data available to other business applications. It’s the glue that holds it all together, and it’s a great complement to our company. It gives us more IT capabilities, and it offers applications to help consumers and businesses manage consumption better through Web interfaces.”

Elster is also offering advanced metering and communication solutions for the gas and water utility markets. The company’s EvolutionTM system provides innovative two-way RF communication water metering technology that drives utility-wide conservation efforts and effectively manages and measures water consumption. “We see other utility enterprises interested in smart distribution system technology – in terms of gas and water – and they’re also very focused on conservation. Water, especially, has become a critical area. This gives us an advantage going forward, as it becomes more of a global issue,” Sitton says.

And yet another solution offered by Elster is the TRACE system. The TRACE system delivers added levels of information for gas metering. TRACE also uses two-way RF communication to collect billing and detailed readings so a utility can selectively retrieve the readings required to meet certain needs while maintaining the mobile AMR reading efficiencies.

Elster assumed its leadership position by advancing innovations that placed a great distance between itself and its competitors. Indeed, its many standards-based systems and components offer customers real solutions and help drive data on a daily basis. “While we have had customer projects in the field for almost seven years now, our competitors are only getting started,” notes Sitton. “Because of our 100-year legacy, we understand both the utility marketplace and how utilities best serve customers. We design products in such a way that supports the utility, we understand the nature of the data needed, and we know what it takes to ensure that a device will operate in the field for as long as 50 years.”

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