Ontario Hydro Improves Customer Service With Automated Monitoring

Ontario Hydro Improves Customer Service With Automated Monitoring

By Stephen Chinn

With deregulation bringing uncertainty and change throughout the energy industry, flexible automated monitoring is giving Ontario Hydro a valuable competitive edge. Presently Ontario Hydro is successfully using automated monitoring to improve its customer services.

Through the establishment of a proactive system for monitoring and reacting to hardware failures, the Ontario Hydro wholesale metering & consulting group currently uses a multi-vendor meter communication system to monitor its 1,600 meter network. The system allows the utility to quickly detect and resolve hardware failures, usually before the customer is even aware of a problem.

Error-free monitoring has also helped the Ontario Hydro billing group accurately bill customers. The billing group uses the monitoring system to collect data from the same meters but uses a different data collection system, which collects on a weekly and sometimes monthly basis. Billing information is readily available, bringing the need to estimate missing data to a minimum.

While the system is currently in operation for the primary purpose of system analysis and monitoring, the Ontario Hydro metering group sees a number of opportunities for expanding the system`s function.

System Requirements

In order to establish the proactive monitoring system, the meter group decided to purchase Energy Analyser Plus (EA+) through Charlotte, S.C.-based Siemens Power Transmission & Distribution LLC, meter division (formerly Process Systems Inc.). To meet Ontario Hydro`s specifications, the system had to be capable of dialing approximately 1,600 meters on a daily basis, allowing the utility to offer the fastest possible response to problems. Data collection speed was important because Ontario Hydro wanted to leave communication lines fully available during the day for customer access. Multi-vendor functionality was also essential because Ontario Hydro uses several metering systems. In addition, capability for unattended central data collection operations was considered important to keep operational costs at a minimum.

System Description

EA+ monitors 1,600 meter points over telephone, radio and cell phone communications. Data is collected on a 24-hour cycle from hardware including Siemens Sentry S100 and S200 recorders and Siemens Quad4/MAXsys meters. EA+ collects the status register values (diagnostic error codes) along with 5- or 15-minute interval consumption data. Over 150 megabytes of data is collected and stored each month.

The system is PC-based and operates in the Microsoft NT environment. Utilizing client-server architecture, data is streamed directly from meter to a relational SQL database, avoiding the inflexible file transfer processes associated with many AMR platforms. An important benefit of this process is that Ontario Hydro can directly interrogate the database through SQL queries, or simply create reports with EA+`s own spreadsheet style formula language.

The system runs on three PCs, each capable of processing 500 remote meters through four communication ports. The ports collect data concurrently, providing an overall collection time of as little as three hours. Even though many of the communication lines are operating at 300 baud, the status register and interval data is still retrieved in an average of 90 seconds per meter. In the future, if Ontario Hydro requires faster communications capabilities, it may upgrade the system to collect simultaneously from 16 ports per client PC.

The remote meter history file holds the 100 most recent date and time stamped status codes. Ontario Hydro retrieves these to identify a range of remote meter problems such as power failures, the time of occurrence and duration of non-operability. Power quality problems such as phase failures and blown fuses can also be identified and monitored.

Each remote meter stores only event codes. When a master end report is run, EA+ assigns meaningful text to the report (see table). Meter and communication failures are analyzed each morning and repair work orders are sent to the 40 regional offices as required.

Running reports on the register values facilitates the proactive response to things such as intermittent failures and low battery warnings. Work centers may have to travel up to five hours to respond to meter problems, so early detection is vital in maintaining efficient customer billing.

System Installation

EA+ software was installed relatively quick by migrating existing set-up data from the billing group to the equipment-monitoring group. Simple visual basic routines were applied to the master file and the data was uploaded into EA+ using SQL scripts. The use of the vendor supplied migration toolkit enabled installation to be completed in less than 10 days.

Future Applications

Clearly, there are exciting opportunities for the Ontario Hydro wholesale metering & consulting group to consider. Data could be passed to the billing group to fill gaps using export facilities in simple text files for import into other software systems. There are also plans to further utilize consumption data and offer reporting on the detection of zero values.

Reporting on power quality messages is a further opportunity. Automatic analysis and reporting capabilities mean power quality reports can be run on a scheduled basis. Exception parameters can be applied to the schedules so a report is only distributed if triggered by a specified event, such as a single-phase switching failure. In this way, the flexible IT architecture leads directly to customer service improvements which are not possible without a high degree of automation. This avoids inflexible and time consuming processes of older data collection systems where error detection often means conversion into a text file followed by a manual text string search.

In the future the meter group may even use the software to provide value-added information services directly to consumers. In the UK the same software is used by four of the 12 regional electricity companies to provide information services to their commercial and industrial customers. n

Stark Software International Ltd.


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