by Anna Kurian, Oncor
When Oncor installed 3.2 million advanced meters across its service territory in late 2012, the company expected the technology would improve how the company does business. Fast forward one year and the technology is surpassing expectations and providing unforeseen benefits to customers and the market through a tremendous increase in data and information.
“We are now tapping into the true operational value of advanced meters,” said Jim Greer, chief operating officer at Oncor. “And our customers and company are benefiting.”
In 2012, Oncor integrated its advanced metering system with its outage management system that uses leading-edge equipment and software to identify service issues and pinpoint the source. The system detects outages and notes power quality issues. When outages occurred before installing this technology, Oncor relied on customer calls to find out about issues and dispatched employees to troubleshoot problems and find the sources. The process could take hours.
“Dispatchers and other restoration personnel are using advanced meter information all the time,” Greer said. “They are now an integral part of our operations, increasing our productivity, cutting back on wasted time and helping us restore power more quickly than ever.”
By having an intelligent, automated system, the company can shrink the duration of an outage and complete several service orders remotely, decreasing response time and the utility’s carbon footprint by eliminating the need to deploy as many service trucks for troubleshooting.
When customers do call about an outage, Oncor’s customer service representatives can check a meter electronically to see if it detects power at a home. This is important because in many cases, a single customer power outage is the result of a customer’s main circuit breaker’s tripping and interrupting power to the home. This remote diagnostic checkup takes only seconds and is possible because of the data an advanced meter can provide.
The integrated system helps during storms and is beneficial during a blue-sky day. On these normal weather days, 25 percent of Oncor’s outages are resolved without a customer report. Since implementing the system, Oncor has resolved more than 7,300 outage events on blue-sky days, affecting nearly 75,000 customers without customer interaction. This means a customer’s home might have experienced an outage during work hours, and Oncor resolved the issue without the customer’s calling it in or even knowing it occurred.
The meters provide situational awareness, said Mark Carpenter, Oncor senior vice president of transmission grid management and system operations.
“Obviously, we can’t control the weather, but having these meters gives us a much better, faster situational awareness,” Carpenter said. “The bottom line is it enables us to provide quicker and more thorough responses to our customers.”
Empowering Texas Electric Customers
Advanced meters and the data they provide benefit the market and customers. Oncor operates in a competitive electric market.
The company delivers electricity to customers, who purchase electricity from a retail electric provider.
Advanced meters allow Oncor to collect and validate data for daily settlement with the market.
Obtaining this data used to entail a monthly meter reader visit. Now information is available remotely and can be accessed in real time.
For customers, real time is key. In today’s data-driven and communication-rich environment, customers want actionable information. They want to know things such as how much energy they’re using and how to save money. Now this data is available. Customers can examine this advanced meter data at www.smartmetertexas.com.
Many retail electric providers host the data on their own proprietary sites; others send usage alerts to customers to encourage them to make changes and avoid high bills. They also send customers a forecast of what their bills will be if their usage patterns continue. Customers can review their usage information, as well as their carbon footprints and prices per kilowatt-hour, in near real time via energy management devices such as in-home monitors, home-area network devices and smartphone apps.
These notifications, new devices and apps would be impossible without advanced meter data.
In addition, advanced meter data enabled significant market changes and product offerings, such as time-of-use pricing and peak demand reduction. Retail electric providers can offer plans such as free nights and weekends or prepaid options.
Advanced meters also make it easy to switch retail electric providers. These service requests can be performed remotely and quickly-a stark contrast to the previous processes available with analog meters. Before advanced meters, Oncor needed 48 hours to schedule and perform a move-in or move-out work order, which required an on-site technician. Today, if a home has an advanced meter, Oncor can perform a connect or disconnect service remotely; usually within minutes of receiving an order.
The costs Oncor charges to perform these services have been dropping steadily as Oncor has installed advanced meters. And these costs are set to drop again April 4.
Seven years ago (before advanced meters were installed in Oncor’s service territory), the standard move-in charge cost $18; today it costs $3.20, and on April 4 it will drop to $2.26. A priority move-in (a move-in request prioritized by a quick timeline) charge cost $97 in 2007. Today, that amount has plummeted to $10.35 and will fall to $2.47-a 97 percent drop. If you needed a meter connected on a holiday, it cost $123 in 2007 and was subject to scheduling by Oncor based on technician availability. Today if a homeowner has an advanced meter, it costs just $20.75 to remotely connect service, and it happens within hours. That rate also will fall in April to $4.07, representing a 97 percent savings from seven years ago.
Overall, from a meter-related discretionary service perspective, full installation of advanced meters has reduced the cost to customers by $35 million annually.
Our Advanced Future
Advanced meters and their data are creating changes outside of the electric market, and because the technology is still new, the amount of product offerings is set to increase in the foreseeable future.
Advanced meters are the foundation for future innovations. The benefits that are seen now, such as streamlined operations, reduced outage time and additional information about usage, will be even more valuable as innovation continues.
These advances were impossible a decade ago, said Bob Shapard, Oncor chairman and CEO.
“That’s all changed now,” Shapard said. “We’re moving quickly to develop and integrate more cutting-edge technology that gives our customers more information about their electric service and consumption than they’ve had before.”
Anna Kurian is communications support coordinator at Oncor Electric Delivery. She is bilingual, has a degree from Southern Methodist University and enjoys writing feature stories.
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