As part of a corporate restructuring -- and essential nationalization -- in the wake of the nuclear crisis that began last March after the earthquake and tsunami, the Japanese utility is being ordered by the government to invite bids from both Japanese and foreign firms for the meters.
The metering is part of a plan to trim about 103 billion yen ($1.3 billion) in costs over the next 10 years. The plan also includes offering voluntary retirement packages to aging workers and selling assets. But the meters are expected to cut down on manual meter readings, offer customers more detailed information about their energy consumption and improve efficiency.
News of the metering plan, which has been percolating since late 2011, has mostly come from the Nikkei. According to Japanese reports, the meters will cost about 200 billion yen ($2.6 billion), but Tepco is hoping to keep the cost per meter at about 10,000 yen per unit, or about $129.
It’s unclear if that figure also includes the communications backhaul to the meter. That is not out of line with what many large European utilities pay for meters, but is certainly lower than what the average U.S. utility deployment goes for.
The cost of meters is a fraction of the claims from the victims affected by the Fukushima disaster, which are expected to reach nearly 4.5 trillion yen ($58 billion).
At first glance, Toshiba, which bought meter giant Landis+Gyr last year, would seem like a shoo-in for the job. The Japanese technology company is already working with Tepco on the Yokohama City smart city project. Fuji Electric and General Electric have also teamed up to provide smart meters for the Japanese market. Hitachi, Panasonic and Osaki Electric have also teamed up for smart grid offerings.
Other foreign meter makers, including Echelon, Elster and Itron are also likely salivating at the Tepco project as large metering projects slow in North America and in parts of cash-strapped Europe. Itron is partnered with IBM to gain market share in the meter data management market and Tepco is also a member of IBM’s Global Intelligent Utility Network Coalition. Both Elster and Echelon have offices in Japan.
The announcement for the meters comes during an uproar over a plan to raise rates on corporate customers as the company plans to accept nearly 1 trillion yen in tax dollars.
The corporate restructuring plan will not be finalized until March, but the first bid for about three million smart meters is expected to take place in the fall.