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Two new surveys gauge smart grid executives' outlook on automated metering infrastructure (AMI), specifically smart meters and their integration with distribution automation (DA). The surveys, sponsored by Elster and conducted by Zpryme, polled middle- to upper-management executives from various players in the smart grid industry, including technology vendors, manufacturers, utilities and consultants, among others.

Dave Buster, Elster's director of solutions architecture, explains that such surveys can help industry stakeholders prepare for the future and, more importantly, catch up with the times.

"Once you have this sort of internal dialogue going on, it makes the industry healthier because it gives the vendors something to focus on in terms of development and gives the utilities something to expect,” he tells Renew Grid. “Everybody needs to know what everyone else is doing and thinking.”

The meter side
In Elster Answers Smart Meter Trends 2012, 67% of 173 executives surveyed felt that utilities are either very or extremely familiar with smart meters, while only 3% of the respondents said utilities are unaware of the technology.

According to the survey, utilities benefit most from smart meters because of better peak-usage control (22%), improved asset management (20%) and enhanced service operations (15%). Customers, on the other hand, benefit most from smart meters because of better energy-usage management (51%), more transparent billing (17%) and faster service restoration (13%).

When asked about how much utilities are likely to invest in smart meters over the next five years, the majority (32%) of respondents estimated between $26 billion and $50 billion globally. In North America, utilities are most expected to spend between $11 billion to $25 billion on smart meters - a large chunk of the global investment. However, 43% of respondents expect Asia to see the most growth in smart meter technology over the next five years, followed by North America (27%).

Although North America has been rolling out smart meters for years now, Buster says that Asia is just ramping up. The region’s healthy economy is helping Asia deploy a plethora of new electrical infrastructure for the first time, thus creating a big market for smart meters and other AMI technologies.

Connecting the dots

The second survey, Elster Answers AMI & DA Trends 2012, included 223 smart grid executives and focuses on the integration of AMI and DA. Sixty-nine percent of respondents strongly agreed that there is a very high potential for integrating AMI and DA, and only 4% disagreed.

“Most of the business cases for AMI rollout had to do with the meter-to-cash problem, such as getting billing information reliably,” explains Buster. “Going forward, there’s an even better business case to be made when you start to combine AMI with DA.”

Specifically, he says utilities should use smart meters as sensors for DA. In addition to supporting the billing process, smart meters can help measure voltage, manage outages and better monitor other issues that are significant to those in charge of the distribution network.

“I think the smart grid is evolving,” Buster adds. “What everyone is starting to realize is that the smart grid is more than just smart meters; it’s also smart infrastructure. Everyone is beginning to integrate really well.”

When it comes to AMI-DA convergence, 60% of the smart grid executives surveyed said they believe utilities would benefit the most. Only 37% of the respondents said end users - including industrial, commercial and residential consumers - would be the primary beneficiaries.

Thirty-five percent of the executives said they would invest in AMI or DA over the next five years. Of the respondents that indicated they would invest in AMI during that period, 49% said they would spend up to $10 million, followed by $11 million to $50 million (28%), $51 million to $100 million (9%) and over $100 million (14%). Of the respondents that indicated they would invest in DA over the same period, 40% said up to $10 million, 31% said between $11 million and $50 million, 16% said between $51 million and $100 million, and 13% said over $100 million.

How might the smart grid executives pay for their new investments? One option, according to the survey, could be more stimulus funds. In fact, 76% of the respondents said the federal government should strongly consider another round of smart grid stimulus grants in the coming year, while only 24% disagreed.

To download the complete Smart Meter survey, click here. To download the complete AMI & DA survey, click here.

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