Smart meter wars: Battle moves to interoperability; Elster fires salvo with universal meter

September 08, 2011
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By Jesse Berst

In the early days, meter vendors focused on functionality, building systems that deliberately walled off competitors. Today the battle is shifting as we enter into the open standards phase. Utilities are beginning to demand plug-and-play compatibility.

Itron gets this. Itron partnered with Cisco in September 2010 to define an IP-based, open standards communications platform. Elster gets it too. In August, 2011, the Raleigh, NC-based firm teamed with Landis+Gyr to develop communications firmware allowing dual interoperability.

And now Elster has gone a step further, with its REXUniversal meter. It puts both the meter and the communications on one chip. Utilities using REXUniversal can, in theory, swap out one vendor's communications system for another without touching the meter. (Previously, such a change required a visit to the customer's premise to swap in a new communications module).

Elster claims its new meter supports all of today's systems and will be capable of supporting several key future standards that are currently in process.

Indeed, Elster is pursuing integration from multiple angles, not just communications. For instance, it just announced a formal partnership with Tendril to create a seamless connection to that firm's home energy management platform.

Jesse Berst is the founder and chief analyst of Smart Grid News.com. He consults to smart grid companies seeking market entry advice and M&A advisory. A frequent keynoter at industry events in the US and abroad, he also serves on the Advisory Council of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory's Energy & Environment directorate.