Smart metering wars: Aclara ups the mobile ante

Tools

By Jesse Berst

 

With the North American metering market now in slow growth mode, manufacturers have turned their attention from hardware to software. More specifically, to selling software that wrings more value from their smart meters.

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Some of that software is "utility facing," as documented in our distribution automation

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A series of applications

At the end of the day, a platform is only as good as the apps that ride on top. Aclara is starting with bill payment (including prepay) and problem resolution (outages). It will follow shortly with applications for remotely controlling programmable thermostats and for customer service. As with the platform itself, Aclara is partnering with specialists to build the applications.

 

Although Aclara will ultimately have a full suite of applications, customers will have a single login and a single look and feel. This may be especially important for multiservice utilities. For instance, customers will naturally want a single place to pay their bills, whether for power, water, gas or some combination.

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AME's simple software interface, pictured here,  has similarities to the Facebook mobile application.

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I suspect that Aclara may someday offer AMD as a hosted service. Initially, however, it is being sold to utilities under a pricing scheme that depends on the number of customers served. I expect Aclara's existing AMI clients to be the first takers, but the company swears the platform can easily support data from competing AMI systems.

 

Enticing developers

AME's technical innovations are valuable, but I came away impressed by Aclara's new business model as well. Aclara is splitting revenues with its partners. With the "backend" partners that contributed to the platform. But also with the application developers themselves. If we want clever programmers to help innovate energy applications, we have to give them places to make money from their ideas.

 

Do you agree that we're headed for a mobile, social, smart phone world? Vote in the QuickPoll on the previous page. Do you agree with the approach Aclara is using to build apps for that world? Let us know in the Comment section.

 

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Jesse Berst is the founder and chief analyst of Smart Grid News.com, the industry's oldest and largest smart grid site. A frequent keynoter at industry events in the U.S. and abroad, he also serves on advisory committees for Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the Institute for Electric Efficiency. He often provides strategic consulting to large corporations and venture-backed startups. He is a member of the advisory boards of GridGlo and Calico Energy Services.