How to Make the Most of Your AMI Investment

By Marc Jones, Telvent

More than 52 million smart meters will be installed in the U.S. by the end of 2012, signaling an industrywide expansion of the advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), according to the 2012 Smart Grid Executive Survey from Zpryme Research and Consulting.

Smart meters already feed hundreds of thousands of readings each day to utilities and provide critical data in near real time.

1 Meter Data Validation Dashboard Using MDM System

To use this data and cope with the number of data points flowing in, a meter data management (MDM) system at the end of every AMI serves as the central information depot. These powerful solutions perform critical validation, estimation and editing (VEE) functions before sending data on a utility’s customer information system (CIS), ensuring accurate, timely billing. This has been the principle function of MDM systems for some time.

AMI-generated data, however, provides an encyclopedia of information to utilities on how and when customers use electricity. AMI data offers insight to a utility’s entire enterprise, beyond just accurate billing. But much valuable information is left on the table.

Data Storage and Analytics

A core feature to extracting the most value from AMI is a single, secure database where the millions of data points collected from multiple sources can be stored. From there, data can be queried by the analytic calculation engines in the MDM system and develop trends and insights that support key business operations and might be critical for infrastructure or distribution planning.

This database allows the MDM system to provide precise VEE functions because it can draw from strong historical data to check data integrity, identify missing readings and replace missing data with accurate estimates. When estimation fails, the MDM system issues a re-read request, quickly identifies meters that exhibit abnormal functioning and can determine the appropriate action.

A database also provides a location to store meter-read data and data provided by the other enterprise solutions that make up the smart grid suite: the geographic information system (GIS) geodatabase, distribution management system, supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) and outage management system. The MDM system then can integrate this data to add value and improve functions of nearly all business operations.

Outage Management Enhancement

With near real-time readings from meters, MDM systems quickly identify meters that return last-gasp messages, which signify potential power outages. Integration with an outage management system (OMS) provides the enhanced processing power and advanced prediction algorithms to identify accurately the events registered by the MDM system as outages and rapidly determine the scope.

2 MDM Integration With GIS Mapping Showing Smart Meter Location, Status

Conversely, the MDM system can provide critical information to the OMS that adds to its overall value, such as providing event notifications from nonmeter devices higher on the network. This allows the OMS to prioritize those events and identify incident locations more rapidly through downstream events.

The MDM system also can help verify outage status because it can receive information and actively ping meters to determine their power status. This helps utilities prevent overprediction of outages and identify nested outages during restoration, provides critical information to the on-site restoration crews and reduces additional trips into the field.

Preventing Operational and Business Network Losses

AMI and MDM implementation also reduces truck rolls into the field for everyday meter readings because readings are taken automatically and regularly in near real time. Meter technicians also are the first defense against theft. They provide monthly field inspections of the meters. Without monthly inspections, that defense is reduced.

New MDM systems fill this void with built-in analysis tools to detect possible theft or tampering. By analyzing real-time data and comparing it with historical trends from the same meter or similar customers, MDM systems can identify patterns likely to suggest theft and tampering and automatically generate a work report for the revenue department and field teams to investigate.

In addition, integrating the MDM system with SCADA or distribution management systems (DMS) also allows for aggregate comparisons between the energy supply and demand load, helping identify potential theft or network loss. The MDM system, for example, can aggregate usage data from all the meters tied to a specific feeder station and compare those figures with the power delivered to that station. Aggregated usage figures that are significantly less might signal to the utility potential theft or network loss during transmission.

Smarter Load Profiling and Planning

Similar aggregate comparison can help utilities analyze the network and plan for the near and long term and can provide powerful tools to companies that face increasing energy demands and a more complex energy generation distribution. MDM systems create advanced network load projections by leveraging the meter-read database and identifying demand trends, as well as during key periods such as peak load or storms.

3 Measurement and Analysis of Meter Data

With this information, utilities can manage peak loads more effectively, plan for increasing energy demands, reduce the need to add generation capacity and take advantage of distributed sources of renewable energy generation. By integrating MDM systems with DMS solutions and weather feeds, utilities can achieve environmental and business goals and make their existing networks go farther.

This also can happen on a smaller scale with similar effects, aggregating the data from individual meters to determine the load on transformers and higher-level devices and determining if equipment replacement is necessary. With the introduction of electric vehicles, for example, existing residential infrastructure might be viable no longer. MDM can notify utilities where load demand has exceeded rated capacity, and they can replace the devices before more expensive and disruptive events, such as a blown transformer, occur.

Data Visualization

All these business enterprises gain value through visualization and integration between MDM and the GIS geodatabase. This provides a clear display of network information, data and AMI deployment. During power outages, controllers are provided with a visual picture of the outage’s size and scope.

MDM solutions also can provide useful visual models through integration with the GIS geodata-base by spatially displaying areas of projected concern or opportunity. In the management of nontechnical loss, MDM can leverage the meter-read database and GIS geodatabase to identify geographic areas at high risk for theft and provide controllers with a visual reference over their network projection.

4 Network Health Dashboard on MDM System

These tools, although advanced, provide valuable intelligence to utilities and extract the true return on investment from AMI implementation. As more utilities make the AMI investment and begin moving beyond the simple meter-to-cash functions of MDM systems, expect business incentives to drive the continued integration of MDM across all operational enterprises, which will result in utilities’ and their network grids’ becoming smarter.

Marc Jones is the smart grid product team manager for Telvent.

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