One database, many uses

Meter data management at Northeast Utilities

By Cliff Demczuk, Northeast Utilities, Geoff Gowan, ABB Inc. and Bob Fesmire, ABB Inc.

April 2, 2004 — Interval meter data–it’s the basis for utility revenues, but as information technology has advanced it’s become a valuable commodity in its own right. The rising demand for customer usage data has put legacy utility IT systems to the test. Most of these systems were developed at a time when speed and throughput requirements were much different than they are today, and meter data was used in a more limited set of applications.

Ordinary needs, extraordinary demand for data

Northeast Utilities (NU) uses MV90 for most of its data collection, but it also has a NERTEC system and will soon begin collecting data from its ION Enterprise system as well–in all, around 7,000 meters. The company also has no shortage of uses for interval meter data including load research, ISO reporting, rate case development and other applications.

Analysis of customer data is especially important since several groups within the company do this for different purposes. For example, NU has “circuit managers” who are responsible for a specific geographic section of the distribution network, and are accordingly very interested in the usage patterns of the customers that fall within their territory.

Meanwhile major account executives also want access to individual customers’ data to enhance understanding of their needs, evaluate possible rate switching, and explore ways for the customer to reduce energy costs (e.g., shifting on-peak usage into off-peak periods, improving load factor, etc.).

MV90 does a good job of collecting the data, but in terms of delivering the data, it was going to require more resources to meet the expectations of internal and external customers. A new system would be required, and it was clear that this meter data management solution would need to:

* Consolidate data from the MV90, NERTEC and (eventually) ION Enterprise systems in one repository;
* Scale up easily in order to meet the continuing growth in the amount of data collected on the upstream side, and the variety of applications using it on the downstream side;
* Reduce the amount of manual processing in day-to-day tasks;
* In general, make meter data readily accessible to all user groups within the company in a timely manner

A new solution

After evaluating a number of products, NU decided to implement ABB’s Customer Manager suite, comprised of a meter data repository and a web-based tool for data visualization and analysis. The system’s open architecture meant that it could take in data from other metering systems as well as MV90 and make it readily available to the many users and applications that needed it. It also offered excellent scalability, so future growth would not be a problem. Finally, the system was designed to be highly automated, requiring very little human intervention to serve a wide variety of applications with data in a timely manner.

The NU Meter Services group now exports meter data files, statistical reports, and billing determinants on a scheduled basis, without the limitations imposed by having only four transfer blocks in MV90. This makes it easier to provide these files to an increasing number of constituencies with different needs.

Enabling virtual metering

By performing calculation on data collected from actual meters, a variety of other information can be inferred. NU’s system uses such “virtual” data channels for two main purposes. The first is to totalize meter data for accounts with multiple meters. The second is to calculate delivered and received energy for generation plants when it would be very expensive to install a real meter at the connection point.

NU sets up virtual meters by entering mathematical expressions that determine how data from actual “contributor” meters is combined to calculate the virtual meter. Previously, all of the complex calculations were hard-coded using SAS. Changing or adding virtual meters required programming changes and a time-consuming testing and release process. Also, if a calculation was ever changed, substantial extra work was required to go back and re-calculate some data from before the change. Now, NU can enter and maintain the expressions directly through the user interface.

Visualize meter data online

In addition to the programmatic interfaces that enable existing applications, NU also wanted a simple means of viewing data in the database. In the past, data files were exported to a data analysis package, but that process was replaced by deploying ABB’s web-based program. This would become the standard access tool for internal groups to get at customer data residing in the data repository.

Because it is web-based, the tool doesn’t require additional software installation, and most users require little if any training to utilize the system. Users could now access customer data themselves, as soon as it was available, without submitting special requests or dealing with export files.

Load data profiling is the most widely used feature of the system. It allows users to view graphs and tables of interval data either at the meter level or aggregated to the account or customer level. Graphs can be generated at daily, weekly, monthly or other time scales. The power factor is automatically calculated and displayed on the graph, and a calculated kVA line has been added using virtual channels.

Statistical reports allow users to quickly access information such as total kWh, peak kW and time-of-use information for arbitrary time ranges, and this has proved to be very useful as well. Another popular feature is memorized reports. Users can set up specific reports to be generated and automatically emailed to a given set of recipients on a scheduled basis, a big time saver for both internal and external users.

Results-access begets applications

The combination of a centralized meter data repository and a web-based access tool has resulted in both predictable and unforeseen results at NU. Efficiency, clearly, is one of the major benefits. By implementing KVA channels on substation metering, for example, NU was able to eliminate the need to produce KVA reports out of MV90, a task that previously took 3-5 man-days of work every month.

But the availability of meter data via a web-based interface has precipitated even more new applications. NU’s transmission and distribution groups have expressed interest in the tool to study historical load patterns on the company’s network. And NU’s Public Service of New Hampshire decided to forego internal development plans and deploy the service to customers. The service is currently available to PSNH customers, and plans to roll it out to NU’s other operating companies are slated for early in 2004.

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