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Smart Meters Lesson from Italy

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Just back from a week in Italy visiting family and friends.  And since I’m an energy guy, I had to check out what the country of my birth has been doing in terms of smart metering.  Guess what? Their system could be an example to the United States.

Italy has a wide network of 27 million smart meters, all operational and available to more than 90% of the people. What’s really impressive is that the infrastructure was deployed in less than five years. This is even more impressive because the regulatory environment there is constantly changing and there were at least four different governments from two different political coalitions during that time.  Since politics tends to be a very disruptive force in Italian life, this success is not a minor detail.

In addition to showing that a smart meter infrastructure works, I think what has been done in Italy is remarkable, considering that one independent distribution operator is providing metering services to 150 energy retailers. All of the retailers compete fiercely with each other and are able to offer creative pricing to their customers. Italian law established an independent distribution operator system (DSO), in addition to a transmission system operator (TSO). The DSO handles the metering infrastructure (with some obvious advantages from a service standpoint) and m ore importantly, simplifies all other future smart grid applications under a unified umbrella.

Here’s an application where this is especially helpful: the centralized management of public and private charging stations for electric vehicles. The prospect of having to deal with many power companies and many bills when I charge my (future) electric car in the office garage, at a theatre parking lot and at home is very real in California. It Italy, customers get a single bill for their own electric provider at its established pricing.

Italy can be at the forefront of new smart grid applications. Thanks to the very far-sighted policies of its former electric monopoly, Enel, the Italians are leading Europe in smart grid deployment and perhaps pioneering a model we should follow in the United States, too.

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Written by Marco G.

June 24, 2009 at 7:07 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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