An advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) is the foundation for any smart grid deployment and represents a critical investment for unlocking business value for any utility. However, to realize this value, utilities need to ensure their AMI solution can simultaneously span multiple applications.
By ensuring broad support for everything from gas and water metering, to service restoration, to theft detection, utilities can strengthen their offerings, improve their efficiencies, and offer better customer service and communication to their customers.
The following seven applications are essential to unlocking more value from your smart grid deployment:
Utilities often have a separate infrastructure for electricity and gas metering, which drives up costs. An AMI system must provide a single network capable of reading all types of meters, along with one head-end system whose software supports multiple smart grid applications. This will not only address operational overhead, but will also eliminate duplication.
Additionally, any gas metering system must have the ability to detect over-capacity events and issue timely alerts, as over-capacity events present a serious safety risk.
As with gas metering, utilities often split the infrastructure for water metering, forcing operational overhead to increase. It is not only costly to have crews manually read water meters, but this method also poses challenges that impact worker safety and utility cash flow. Leaks and theft, both of which are hard to detect through manual meter reads, further drive up costs.
An AMI system must provide a single network capable of reading all types of meters, including water meters, and eliminate infrastructure duplication. A water metering solution should support remote, automated meter reading on a customizable schedule, and enable the utility to modify its billing cycle to solicit more frequent (e.g. monthly vs. quarterly) payment collections.
Faster Service Restoration
When utilities lack insight into outage reporting, the deployment of their work crews is often inefficient and inaccurate. An AMI solution needs to provide proactive notifications of outages, ideally before a single customer call, as well as detailed information to pinpoint the location, and extent of an outage so that crews can be dispatched appropriately.
This process begins with smart meters that send a “last gasp” notification when they lose power and transmit restoration messages when power is back on. In addition, an AMI system should support two-way communications with distribution automation (DA) devices, such as reclosers, feeder switches, and capacitor bank controllers that allow utility maintenance crews to locate trouble spots on the network and reroute power around them.
Some meters, which are made with plastic rather than metal, may be subject to overheating when plugged into older sockets. Because of this possible safety hazard, utilities need meters that can track their temperature and send an alert when it is out of bounds (either too high or too low).
Technology with temperature detection, as well as an AMI network that immediately routes those alerts to the back office for appropriate action will maximize customer safety.
Electricity Theft Detection
Electricity theft is more common than many realize,, resulting in lost revenue and presenting a risk of electrocution to individuals who tap a power line to avoid service metering, replace a meter with copper wire, or tamper with the meter itself.
To counter theft, utilities need an AMI network that uses detection algorithms to identify spikes in unusual activity in an upstream of meters, as well as provides meters that can report a variety of data, including tamper alerts.
Voltage Monitoring and Control
Low voltage can occur at any point on the distribution circuit, change throughout the day, and be affected by season, weather events, new loads, and physical changes in the distribution network itself, such as relocation of a transformer. Without insight into actual voltage levels at customer locations, utilities often boost voltage levels, leaving the sub-station to ensure it’s in compliance with the mandated levels. This approach, however, wastes energy.
An AMI-based conservation voltage reduction (CVR) and Volt/VAR Optimization (VVO) solution can help utilities optimize both energy savings and compliance. Such a solution must be able to assess, monitor, and control voltage levels.
Prepayment is a good option for utilities that want to ensure payment from customers who have no credit history or a record of non-payment. Prepayment is easy and convenient for customers and provides revenue assurance while reducing a utility’s bad debt.
To support prepayment, an AMI network must give utilities the ability to connect and disconnect meters remotely. In addition, the AMI head-end software must integrate with the utility’s CIS, general ledger, and meter data management system (MDMS). Such integration is necessary for key information utilities need for proper billing and collections.
There are many applications utilities can leverage to begin unlocking more value from an AMI program, and a variety of ways to support these deployments. Yet, the key to success lies in creating an open, standards-based foundation that can address a broad range of needs. Start with the core essentials and the tools outlined above will provide a firm base from which to expand a successful smart grid program.