CP&L Prepares to Offer Advanced Information Services

In late 1998, Carolina Power & Light Co. (CP&L), Raleigh, N.C., began design and development of a new meter data collection and management system called “Advanced Access & Automation” or A3. The project was initiated to turn a problem into an opportunity. When the utility assessed its installed meter base for Y2K compliance, it found that approximately 23,000 meters were non-compliant. CP&L decided to combine the “fix” for many of the non-compliant meters with a project aimed at exploring and adding new metering technologies to meet both company and customer needs. CP&L also viewed the program as an opportunity to integrate several independent programs under one umbrella program.

When the project is complete, not only does CP&L expect to be equipped to service its customers remotely, but it should also have the ability to implement a number of different communications technologies to support various meters. The utility expects to have a scalable and flexible system that will allow it to continue to add new meters from different customer classes. CP&L also plans to have an infrastructure in place to help it meet its evolving energy information management demands.

A3 Objectives

According to Julie Broadway, CP&L’s Energy Information Special Projects and Regional Metering supervisor, A3 is not an automatic meter reading project. “It is much more than that,” she said. “It is a data/information gathering process.”

The main project goals, besides meeting Y2K compliance issues, are:

  • Improve the expediency of accessing meter data, including consumption, demand, time-of-use, power failure and alarm condition data;
  • Improve both CP&L’s and its customer’s access to energy data, creating new revenue steams and offering new management tools; and
  • Support CP&L’s growth strategy by expanding into advanced energy services.

When CP&L decided to pursue the A3 project, it was clear that the utility needed a flexible system. The functions and features of the 23,000 meters identified as Y2K non-compliant varied widely (Table 1). The meters were also spread throughout CP&L’s 30,000-square-mile service territory, which is somewhat disjointed and consists of varying terrain. CP&L needed a system that could be headquartered in Raleigh, but used in other locations. In addition, the Raleigh-Durham area is one of the fastest-growing regions in the country, so the system had to be scalable to accommodate for expected growth. CP&L has been using a mix of third party software, handheld readings, manual readings and MV-90 readings to collect usage and billing information. Therefore, a system that is able to consolidate its meter data into one system was also needed.

The original team, which consisted of individuals from CP&L’s information technology/systems development department, distribution engineering department, metering operations department and Interpath (CP&L’s independent service provider and telecom subsidiary), was coordinated and directed by Broadway and Matt Oja, CP&L’s energy information project sponsor. These individuals proceeded with the understanding that the system they were tasked with designing and developing was to play a big role in positioning CP&L to be the premier service provider in a deregulated environment. “We don’t know which way metering in the Carolina’s will go, but we want to be prepared,” Oja said. “We believe that by developing and offering advanced metering services while still operating in a regulated environment, customers and CP&L will be better prepared to make smarter decisions when customer choice comes.”

CP&L hopes to be a leading solutions provider to all energy suppliers. “This is one of the reasons CP&L chose to enter this market,” said Broadway. “We wanted to gain knowledge of AMR and the new revenue streams such a system can create.”

Selecting a Partner

According to Broadway, CP&L initially sent request for proposals to 12 potential suppliers, or partners-six responded. CP&L met with those six and three more dropped out, leaving only three companies that were interested in working with CP&L on system design, development and deployment.

In February 1999, CP&L selected ABB Automation as its partner and agreed to purchase ABB Electricity Metering’s EnergyAxis AMR Server. The contract between ABB and CP&L calls for a multi-faceted metering system that includes remote metering, data warehousing and management, power quality and outage information.

Since the contract was initiated, the two companies have been working together to successfully replace meters and integrate the server into CP&L’s existing technology. They have worked together to make ABB’s technology fit CP&L’s needs. CP&L did not want to ask ABB, or any other vendor, to develop a system that would be required to do everything it needed right away. CP&L also wanted to get the system up and running quickly, so it made sense to make as few changes as possible. Both parties proceeded prudently and were careful not to over commit, said John Reckleff, ABB Automation’s Electricity Metering executive vice president.

Although the AMR Server, which was designed to be flexible and scalable, met many of the requirements CP&L was looking for, system installation and implementation required a deep commitment from both parties. CP&L and ABB have formed a true partnership and are working together very closely to make sure the project is a success. The system has been designed and developed based on input from both CP&L engineers and ABB engineers, who are working together to make sure the technology meets the utility’s needs. “This is not just a software development project, it is a deployment as well,” said Sharon Allan, ABB Electricity Metering’s product management director. “ABB is committed to the same goals as CP&L.”

System Features

Besides the ABB ALPHA meters, CP&L is also installing TransData’s Mark V meters, like the one pictured above, at various commercial and industrial sites.
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The system is designed to comply with industry requirements allowing multiple entities access to validated meter information. It is also designed to deal with the issues surrounding a geographically dispersed territory. Timely energy information is collected, processed, stored and published for each business process-such as scheduling coordination, load forecasting, billing and customer service. As new businesses or applications are developed, CP&L will be able to quickly distribute data to these new entities, including external businesses.

Both parties feel the system’s biggest strength is its ability to closely couple the meter with the communications infrastructure. Creating a system that would allow CP&L to incorporate meters from various areas of its own service territory, plus those from other deregulated areas outside its territory, meant that the utility had to look beyond the private network model. To meet such requirements, several communication technologies were required. The system that has been developed accommodates a variety of third party communications technologies and supports both ABB and non-ABB meters. So far, CP&L is using a combination of telephony (both dial inbound and outbound), private radio, public radio (American Mobile’s ARDIS network), and satellite (ORBCOMM’s low earth orbiting satellite) technology to send and receive data. The utility is also in the process of adding cellular communications technology to the mix. By leveraging public networks, CP&L and ABB eliminated a lot of time and expense involved in building a dedicated infrastructure. This allowed CP&L to get the system up and running quickly.

All of these communications technologies integrated with ABB’s ALPHA meters. ARDIS and telephone are also available with TransData’s Mark V meters. The various supported communications links offer the utility and its installers a lot of flexibility when determining communications technology needs for a particular site. According to Broadway, since any of the communications technologies work on any of the ABB A3 meters, and the TransData Mark V meters are also supported by various communications technologies, the installer can decide which communications technology to use with any given meter once he or she has arrived at the site.

A3’s Future

The A3 project, which includes a mix of industrial, commercial and residential meters, offers various services to each customer class (Table 2). The utility has already installed more than 5,500 new meters. Ten thousand will be installed by year-end 2000, and 14,000 meters will be in place by the end of 2001.

To determine which meters would best be suited for the project, the CP&L team worked with the area office managers. The managers helped identify customers that would benefit most from the project, as well as which customers would provide CP&L with the most benefit. Besides the Y2K non-compliant meters, CP&L focused on meters that are hard to access, such as remote meters, and large industrial meters.

By the end of 2001, the A3 system will be implemented at all of CP&L’s 500 kW per month and greater customer sites. In addition, 20 percent of those customers that use between 30 and 500 kW per month will be included.

With 23,000 meters identified as Y2K non-compliant and only 4,000 installed by Jan. 1, 2000, it is obvious that not all the non-compliant meters were included in the A3 project. According to Broadway, CP&L looked at all the meters that needed attention before the new year and determined that the utility would be better served by simply replacing some of these meters with Y2K compliant mechanical meters.

Ray Ballentine, CP&L meter technician, installs a meter as part of the A3 project, which will allow the utility to gather more data about its customers.
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CP&L owns more than 1.4 million meters, so this project includes approximately 1 percent of the utility’s meters. “Obviously this is not a large-scale AMR project” Oja said. “A3’s goal is not to automate all of our meters, but to gain a thorough understanding of what it takes to be an effective information provider and at the same time learn how we can use this technology to create customer loyalty and new revenue sources.”

The team members feel they are on the right track. The system is up and running and meter reads are being reported daily. CP&L is currently integrating the A3 system with its customer information system and MV-90 system. There are also plans to conduct a pre-payment pilot this year. Other plans include integrating the system’s outage detection function into CP&L’s interactive voice response (IVR) system so that customers will automatically be notified when the power is out, letting them know that the utility is aware of their outage. The IVR will also notify customers when the power has been restored.

CP&L is also considering using the new system as an aid in capacity-based planning. It plans to couple the A3 outage detection feature with the feeder analysis program that is installed in its substations. This will allow distribution system operators and designers to look at premise information available through the meter and information available at the substation to determine if the problem is at CP&L’s site or the customer’s. The utility is also planning to build a Web application so its customers will have access to much of the information available through A3. n

CP&L’s Kirk Hatch checks out a newly installed meter, one of the several thousand that will become part of the utility’s new A3 system.
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