Arkansas Community Declares Itself “Smartest City in the World”
By Michael Wiebe, MW Consulting
Conway Corp. (Conway, Arkansas) is a leader in adopting innovative technologies and processes to enhance the value of the services it provides to its local community. The company operates the city-owned utility system and provides electric, water, wastewater, cable, internet, telephone and security services for the nearly 65,000 residents of the Conway community. It recently unveiled details of its citywide advanced meter and streetlight upgrade program. The municipal utility’s 1 gigabit broadband “Digital Nervous System” (DNS), which it added to its customer offerings in 2016, was the perfect foundation to extend the digital meter infrastructure to the field.
Conway Corp. was incorporated in 1929 and soon after that began operating the city electric plant. Shortly after incorporation, it took over the city’s water system and then in 1957 its wastewater plants. In 1980, keeping pace with Conway’s growth, Conway Corp. purchased a 2-percent interest in two coal-fired, steam-generating plants and completed construction on the city-owned cable system. In 1995, the company spent about $5.6 million to rebuild its hybrid-fiber-coax infrastructure, making way for the 1997 launch of cable internet service. The launch made it the third company in the country and fifth in North America to offer high-speed, broadband cable internet service. In December 2016, the company launched a 1 gigabit internet offering for residential customers citywide.
|Photo courtesy Conway Area Chamber of Commerce|
In May, Conway Corp. unveiled details of its citywide advanced meter upgrade project. In addition to the installation of advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) for electric and water meters, the company will install advanced technology street light controls. The technology solution will include a two-way mesh radio network, enhanced electric meters, water meter communication modules and a meter data management system.
The advanced metering technology and streetlight controls, coupled with its existing hybrid-fiber-coax network, pegs Conway as the “smartest city in the world,” per Conway Corp.’s recent press release.
“This project provides a continued vision to enhance operational excellence and customer service through an advanced metering solution,” Conway Corp. CEO Bret Carroll said in the press release “Once fully deployed and in addition to the obvious immediate benefits, Conway Corp. will use the platform to optimize its infrastructure and resource planning and provide future enhanced services to our customers.”
The knowledge gained during Conway Corp.’s DNS architecture and program development and launch would be an asset during the buildout of the advanced meter and streetlight upgrade program, however, the company felt it needed a consulting partner to assist with project planning and implementation. Through a request for qualifications (RFQ) process, Conway Corp. selected MW Consulting to be its partner on the project.
MW Consulting helped Conway Corp. create a smart utility vision, strategy and business case using a series of workshops and follow-up activities. A template model of benefit and cost insights from prior projects was used to document a business case looking at cost, benefit and risk. To ensure precision and a full understanding of the value of electric and water upgrades as well as smart streetlighting, standalone business cases were developed for each business line. They were then consolidated to represent total benefits.
|Senior Meterman Preston Glover stands in front of some of Conway Corp.’s smart meters. Courtesy Conway Corp.|
During this process, the Internet of Things (IoT) paradigm was mentioned only modestly and occasionally. Within a matter of months, however, IoT became one of the hottest topics published and suppliers began fine tuning their marketing messaging around products being developed to support IoT.
Conway Corp. sought to understand whether the IoT concept created value for this project. The company wanted to know if and how IoT related to Conway’s consumers, businesses and associated city operations.
“With our new system’s multi-technology flexibility and an open IPv6 capable and standards compliant network, Conway will be able to integrate with third-party technologies to expand the benefits over time as needed.
“Conway already has a 1 gigabyte per second hybrid fiber-coax cable system used to provide voice, video and data services in the city of Conway. We will soon be positioned to look into the project’s next phase where we want to explore the ability to leverage this infrastructure in the delivery of electricity, water and streetlighting services to our customers,” said Carroll.
The company and its partner MW Consulting concluded its metering and streetlight upgrade should be viewed as an extension of its DNS architecture to create a “connected field area” comprised of many thousands of electric, water and streetlight endpoints.
|Photo courtesy Conway Area Chamber of Commerce|
The business cases included the following expected and unexpected benefits:
a. Meter Reading and Billing – Improving meter reading and billing performance reduces customer complaints and inquiries, staff time spent addressing exceptions and the need to dispatch field crews to obtain validation readings. The use of a disconnect/reconnect switch for single phase electric meters significantly reduces the required truck rolls to support customer move-ins and move-outs and credit related transactions. This feature is significant because Conway is home to three colleges with combined student enrollment of more than 16,000 students.
b. Water Leak Detection – Better leak detection improves repair and minimizes revenue loss by reducing operating costs for water plants and improving water conservation.
c. Electric Outage and Restoration – Better outage Identification and assessment allows faster and more efficient response, which in turn reduces outage durations and the cost to respond.
d. Tamper and Theft Detection – Identifying theft or tampering situations or both, reduces non-technical losses and increases revenue.
e. Unauthorized Use – Identifying unauthorized use of services with alarms and alerts prevents unbilled usage and identifies unauthorized diversion of electric power, again reducing non-technical losses and increasing revenue.
f. Meter Maintenance – Utilizing data monitoring capabilities to detect and respond to malfunctioning or failed meters quicker minimizes technical losses.
The company also found the value of smart streetlighting, and could document operational benefits in addition to energy savings by converting to LED luminaires.
Once the benefits and business cases were identified, the next step was the request for proposal (RFP) process to select a vendor. Each supplier’s solutions were viewed in terms of network, endpoints, IT/OT and services that met vision strategy and business case goals.
Landis+Gyr was selected as the solution partner. Conway Corp. is deploying an RF mesh network that connects electric and water meters, as well as streetlight controls. These will be used in conjunction with Conway Corp.’s LED streetlight upgrade program.
With the data available from the new endpoints, Conway Corp.’s technology department is working on new customer applications that will use the knowledge gained from this additional data. The company is designing business processes to detect usage patterns that suggest potential water leaks and back-flow conditions. The new volumes of endpoint information such as usage, demand, voltage and outage data will be used to feed engineering system models for more accurate analysis and prediction results.
Landis+Gyr’s Gridstream AMI solution is being implemented to provide Conway Corp. with the foundation to optimize its operations and enhance customer service. In addition, becoming a smart IoT city is important to the community and it’s important to Conway Corp. that it be seen as a technology leader. This project is, therefore, an important one. The company believes an IoT powered city can help the community retain businesses, attract new ones and increase job satisfaction for employees.
“We are excited to have this project underway and are thankful to be working with MW Consulting and Landis+Gyr to help us accomplish our goals,” Carroll said. “We believe Conway, Conway Corp. and our customers will benefit for years to come.”
Michael Wiebe is president of MW Consulting and author of “A Guide to Utility Automation.” Since 1996, MW Consulting has created value for utilities by helping them excel in enhancing operational, financial, environmental, and customer programs. Wiebe leads the company’s team that includes: professional engineers and ex-utility managers with expertise in customer service, IT, OT, networks and security. MW Consulting has supported utilities in 15 countries, creating industry-leading visions and projects. For more information, visit www.mwconsultingcorp.com or contact Wiebe at 404-915-4991 or [email protected].