Florida Power & Light’s C&I Metering System Gets Smart

By Steven M. Brown, Associate Editor

Reliable power is a must for commercial and industrial (C&I) customers, and it always has been. When power doesn’t flow to a C&I facility, business comes to a halt. But as modern manufacturing equipment and e-commerce endeavors become more prevalent on the C&I landscape, it is not enough for electric power to simply flow to a facility; the power also must flow smoothly-relatively free of sags, surges, spikes and all the power quality bugaboos that can act as a wrench in the high-tech C&I works.

Power that deviates from the pure waveform can result in devastating losses to modern business. According to the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), power quality events in the United States resulted in the loss of $50 billion in productivity and replacement of damaged equipment and inventory in 1999. A recent report by Banc of America Securities predicts that “with an increasing percentage of U.S. commerce expected to be conducted over the Web over the next five years, EPRI’s $50 billion loss estimate could rapidly escalate to more than $100 billion.” The Banc of America Securities report goes on to state that in 1999, the amount lost as a result of power quality issues in the United States alone was more than four times the amount spent on power quality worldwide. For the C&I segment, and for utilities that derive a large part of their revenues from C&I accounts, those numbers add up to trouble.

Ed Brill, power quality business manager at Florida Power & Light (FPL), understands the importance of power quality to FPL’s C&I customers. Brill has spent more than a decade working directly with C&I customers and helping them solve problems related to power quality and reliability. In that time, Brill has noticed a marked and steady increase in the importance of clean, reliable power to those C&I accounts.

“Every year, the concern over power quality seems to increase,” Brill said. “Our C&I customers are more aware of power quality than they’ve ever been, and their need for clean power is increasing.”

Much of the equipment shown in this photo of an existing FPL solid state data recorder installation will be unnecessary once Smart Meters are installed.Click here to enlarge image

Brill attributes the increased awareness of power quality and the desire for clean, steady power to the pervasiveness of sensitive electronic equipment in the modern C&I facility.

“A lot of the motors in our customers’ facilities used to be fairly immune to power quality events,” Brill said. “Now those motors are being replaced with variable frequency drives. They’re replacing a mechanical device that was largely immune to power quality fluctuations with an electronic device that’s much more susceptible to those (power quality) events.”

As a result of that technological sophistication, modern C&I customers demand clean, reliable power, and when they don’t get it, they want to know why. Did the company’s manufacturing process come to a clattering stop in the middle of the night because of a problem on the utility’s side of the meter or on the customer’s side? More importantly, can the utility do anything to ensure that a similar power quality event doesn’t reoccur? Questions like these make power quality monitoring a must for the utility that values, and wishes to retain, its C&I accounts.

A cross-section of a meter displaying the “under-the-glass” SmartSynch hardware. SmartSynch’s equipment provides the power quality monitoring and wireless communications functionality of the Smart Meter system.Click here to enlarge image

In a presentation at the AMRA 2000 International Symposium this past September, Ed Malemezian, data collection manager for EDMpro.com, a division of FPL Energy Services, discussed the need for improved power quality monitoring to adequately serve customers. “In my mind, the power quality/power reliability issue is one of the new frontiers for our business,” Malemezian said. “We feel strongly that customers want and need that type of information, and if we as utilities are able to provide it, we’re serving our customers the way they expect and deserve to be served.”

To that end, FPL-in conjunction with Siemens Power Transmission and Distribution, SmartSynch and SkyTel-is in the process of implementing a “Smart Meter” AMR system with power quality monitoring and wireless notification capabilities. The system consists of Siemens S4 meters with under-the-glass power quality monitoring and communications equipment provided by Mississippi-based SmartSynch (formerly XP Technology). The Smart Meters, as they’re being called, report back to a central server-the M32 transaction management system-also provided by SmartSynch. Wireless coverage is being provided via the SkyTel network.

In addition to providing an up-to-date replacement for the 4,050 aging solid state data recorders FPL uses to collect billing data from its meters, the Smart Meter implementation addresses a number of other needs for FPL and its C&I customers. Smart Meters provide:

  • Integrated power quality monitoring capabilities built into each meter, as opposed to utilizing power quality equipment separate from the meter.
  • Under-the-glass wireless modem technology, as opposed to a separate modem box off to the side of the meter.
  • Uninterrupted communication to the meter during outages.
  • Power quality monitoring parameters customizable to each customer.

FPL is currently replacing the old SSDRs (most of which were installed during the early to mid-80s) with the new Smart Meters on what can best be described as an as-needed or as-most-needed basis. As the existing SSDRs fail or as individual customers request the enhanced functionality afforded by the Smart Meters, FPL’s meter technicians go to the existing installation, take a final read of the information held in the old SSDR, turn the old recorder off, unplug the meter, strip out the wiring between the meter and recorder, plug the new Smart Meter into the pulse-initiating meter socket, start up the Smart Meter, and the installation is complete. FPL estimates that it will take roughly 5,000 meters to complete the replacement of the existing system of 4,050 SSDRs. The changeover should be complete by the end of 2001, at which time FPL expects to have a much simpler, more reliable, more functional system for its C&I customers.

“Ultimately, there will be a lot less equipment out at the facility,” Malemezian said. Not only will the new Smart Meters require no additional power quality or communications equipment external to the meter, since most of the system falls into SkyTel’s wireless coverage area, the old phone lines can be eliminated as well. “The fewer pieces and connections, the more reliable the installation’s integrity,” Malemezian said.

Wireless vs. Wired

When FPL began the Smart Meter project, one of the utility’s top priorities was to find a solution that would provide wireless communication to the new meters. Previously, FPL had used a combination of phone lines and manual reads to collect billing data from its SSDRs in the field. According to Malemezian the old SSDRs utilized about 1,500 telephone lines, with the remaining 2,500 or so SSDRs requiring manual reads, which were collected monthly. Obviously, manual reads would not suffice for the type of power quality monitoring FPL had in mind for the new meters, and phone lines to each of the new Smart Meters would be costly and troublesome from a maintenance standpoint.

Three years ago when FPL initially sought out a wireless provider for the project, the rates being offered were too high to justify the use of wireless instead of a phone line-based system-despite the fact that most communication between FPL and the meters would be during off-peak, early morning hours. Another strike against the wireless solution at that time was that most providers couldn’t supply adequate coverage for the areas where FPL would locate its meters. About a year-and-a-half ago, FPL again looked at the feasibility of a wireless communications solution for the project. Prices had fallen and coverage was better, but FPL still couldn’t justify the expense.

According to Malemezian, based on the cost of wireless solutions and its less-than-adequate coverage, FPL was ready to go forward with their project using phone line-based communications. But at that point, FPL became aware of a project under way at Duke Power. Duke had implemented an AMR system incorporating Siemens meters, SmartSynch’s under-the-glass wireless communications equipment and SkyTel’s communications network. Although Duke’s intentions were different from what FPL envisioned, it was a system that could conform to FPL’s power quality monitoring needs. Perhaps most importantly, SkyTel would be able to provide service to 90 percent of the sites FPL wished to cover with the new system, and they would do it for a much more reasonable rate than FPL had been able to negotiate in previous inquiries with wireless providers. SkyTel offered a more palatable rate based on the fact that the bulk of FPL’s communication with the meters could be conducted during off-peak hours.

Due to the flexibility of the hardware built into the Smart Meters, FPL will be able to use a phone line-based solution to communicate with the 10 percent of Smart Meters not currently covered by the SkyTel network. The hardware’s flexibility also allows FPL to further evaluate its wireless service options in the future. Should better rates present themselves, the opportunity to change providers or technologies is not limited by the Smart Meter hardware.

“SmartSynch is pursuing some of the other wireless options out there,” Malemezian said. “For instance, they’ve been looking at CDPD as being the next wireless technology that they’re going to build in. The beauty of this system is its adaptability. Most of the horsepower is on the board SmartSynch has built. The wireless modem is just a module they plug into the system. It’s a very adaptable system.”

PQ Monitoring Tailored to Each Customer

Siemens S4 Meters provide the metering functionality for FPL’s Smart Meter system.Click here to enlarge image

While the system serves to collect and transmit usage information from the customer site back to FPL for billing purposes like any standard AMR system would, the true functionality of the Smart Meter system lies in its power quality and reliability monitoring capabilities-and in its ability to customize power quality event thresholds to each individual customer.

FPL’s Smart Meters will monitor the distribution system continuously at the customer-level for a number of power quality- and reliability-related events, such as high voltage, low voltage, momentary interruptions and longer-duration outages. When the meter detects such an event, it sends the information to the M32 master station, which is located at FPL’s Miami headquarters. FPL works with each customer to determine how stringent that customer’s power quality needs are, and each meter can be set accordingly. Custom monitoring and notification thresholds can be set into each meter so that the meter does not initiate a call back to the master station until power quality exceeds or falls below a certain level for a predetermined length of time. Specific parameters and thresholds can either be programmed into a meter before it is installed at the customer location, or the customized thresholds can be sent to the meter over the wireless network from the master station after the meter has been installed.

“Right now, our intent is to have all the meters default to a generic set of parameters,” Malemezian said. “Then, once the meter has been installed and has established contact with the M32 master station, we can customize that profile and the meter’s power quality thresholds to be specific to that particular customer’s needs.”

The customer-level customization does not stop at the meter. Customer profiles can also be programmed into the central M32 master station so that when power quality deviates from the meter’s pre-programmed parameters and the meter contacts M32, the master station will perform certain customer-specific notification tasks. Depending on the event and the particular customer, the master station can be programmed to generate an automated trouble call ticket to begin resolution of the problem, page the customer’s FPL account representative, or contact the affected customer via pager or e-mail to alert them of the problem.

Benefits to FPL and its Customers

Although FPL is still in the early stages of full Smart Meter implementation, the utility’s experience with the pilot installations and early full-scale installations point toward real benefits-both to FPL and its C&I customers. Customers connected to the Smart Meter system will now have a better understanding of the occasional flickers and glitches that wreak havoc on sensitive equipment. Brill said that in the past, when power quality events have disrupted a customer’s business processes, a lot of finger-pointing between customers, vendors and the utility wasn’t uncommon.

“As we get these meters out to our customers, we’ll be better able to point to where their problems are stemming from-whether it’s a problem internally for the customer or a problem externally on our system,” Brill said. “You typically don’t have that sort of customer-level data to help you diagnose problems. It’s usually feeder-level or substation-level data, and it’s usually very general information.

“This system is going to give us better data to help us better diagnose problems and deal with reliability issues.”

Malemezian agrees. While the system won’t immediately fix the intermittent power quality events that crop up on any distribution system, the data collected will help FPL minimize those events in the future. Through the Smart Meter system, Malemezian said, FPL will have access to “A gold mine worth of data to tell us where outages are, where reliability and power quality problems are occurring and what kind of loads we’re experiencing on certain parts of the system. We can feed that information into our planning processes so that we can more intelligently devote our resources where they’re most needed.

“This data will help us determine where the power quality and reliability problems are,” Malemezian continued. “And that’s the first step toward figuring out how to mitigate those problems.”


  • The Clarion Energy Content Team is made up of editors from various publications, including POWERGRID International, Power Engineering, Renewable Energy World, Hydro Review, Smart Energy International, and Power Engineering International. Contact the content lead for this publication at Jennifer.Runyon@ClarionEvents.com.

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The Clarion Energy Content Team is made up of editors from various publications, including POWERGRID International, Power Engineering, Renewable Energy World, Hydro Review, Smart Energy International, and Power Engineering International. Contact the content lead for this publication at Jennifer.Runyon@ClarionEvents.com.

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