Increase Returns With Your AMI Investment

by Edward Myszka, Elster Solutions.

As guardians of critical infrastructure and energy management, utilities face the twofold challenge of ensuring reliability on an aging grid.

To drive grid modernization, many utilities are considering an advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) deployment, are in the midst of one or have completed one. The cornerstones of AMI deployments are typically in meter-to-cash applications through robust, two-way communications, as well as the ability to implement more efficient billing practices and optimize customer service. In addition to these improvements, AMI can extend to other applications in distribution automation, including commercial load control, voltage conservation and transformer monitoring, along with demand-side management.

Core AMI Competencies

The Salt River Project (SRP) is the third-largest public power utility in the United States. SRP serves more than 935,000 electricity customers in the greater Phoenix metropolitan area, which is home to a high percentage of transitory population. Because of this population profile, SRP required an AMI system that would enable an accurate billing cycle and meet increased customer service demands such as remote connects and disconnects and prepayment flexibility. As of 2011, SRP completed more than 1 million service orders remotely, saving the utility some 341,000 labors hours and eliminating 1.7 million driving miles and 169,000 gallons of fuel.

Distributed Automation-AMI Convergence

In addition to the bread-and-butter AMI functionalities, distributed automation (DA)-AMI convergence provides unprecedented opportunities for power grid modernization, from transformer and feeder monitoring, voltage conservation, commercial load control and cost-effective fault isolation to electric vehicle integration. By creating a systemwide communications network to every service point on the utility grid, an AMI system deployment can provide ubiquitous communications infrastructure linking transmission control protocol (TCP)/Internet Protocol or distributed network protocol (DNP) devices to monitor and control DA, resulting in an intersection of DA-AMI, also called DA-AMI convergence.

Increasingly, utilities are realizing the added value and benefits of AMI. A survey of participating utilities conducted at Elster’s recent AMI User Conference showed that while 61 percent were not yet leveraging AMI for DA applications, they were considering the benefits.

With a service area of some 705,000 end points, Toronto Hydro is one of Canada’s largest municipal electric services providers. In addition to fulfilling mandated time-of-use pricing through interval reads, remote connects and disconnects, as well as improved efficiencies through reduced truck rolls, in 2009 Toronto Hydro deployed transformer monitors to reduce theft and transformer losses, as well as condition monitoring. With 5,600 transformer monitors deployed, Toronto Hydro has gained insight into the distribution grid, added the ability to optimize load management and lowered the risk of active transformer failure. By summer 2011, Toronto Hydro redistributed loads in response to 12 overloaded transformers. Through DA-AMI convergence, Toronto Hydro has saved more than 100,000 outage minutes, ensuring reliable, continuous service for customers.

Voltage Conservation

Voltage conservation brings immediate benefit to utilities that implement DA-AMI solutions by reducing the voltage needed to service a given customer base. The goal of voltage conservation is to reduce energy losses and consumption by operating at the lower end of these voltage ranges. This voltage reduction has no power quality or service impact on customers because the voltage at meters remain within acceptable ranges. Less energy is expended with no additional consumer effort.

As a founding member of the Smart Grid Voltage Conservation Alliance (SGVCA,) Entergy Corp. recently completed a four-month voltage conservation pilot using 3,400 meters in Baton Rouge, La. Entergy realized a consistent 3 to 5 percent savings in voltage consumption. Voltage conservation can be an attractive option for many utilities, including decoupled utilities or those that receive incentives not limited to consumer-facing efficiency programs. It is also useful in shaving peak demand and prevents needing to purchase additional power, as well as reduces the risk, high costs and penalties associated with prolonged outages.

Grid modernization is challenging in a difficult environment. Utilities, however, recognize AMI is a solid investment to realize their goals and can be used as a cost-efficient platform for leveraging applications.

Edward Myszka is president of Elster Solutions.

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