Why Meter Data Management is The Key to Unlocking AMI Usability

By Mark D. Hall, Chartwell Inc.

Advanced metering initiatives-in addition to goals of gaining more functionality and cutting operating costs-are driving more utilities to implement automated metering infrastructure (AMI) systems.

On the same path to achieving these goals, some utilities are finding that AMI is best implemented in unison with meter data management systems (MDMS). In fact, many energy experts agree that MDMS is the backbone of AMI; that without it, fixed metering systems are no more useful than mobile AMR systems that were once simply seen as swifter, more accurate means of reading a utility’s cash register-the meter. MDMS makes possible most of the ancillary business benefits offered through frequent data acquisition such as outage management, network planning and operations, customer service applications, demand-side planning, etc.

“Business users and systems have little or no use for raw meter data. It is overwhelming and without context. MDMS serves as the middleware to translate raw meter data into systems, each wanting the meter data transformed in a particular way (aggregation, billing determinants, averaged profiles, weather-normalized, etc.),” said Rick Brakken, senior vice president for Nexus Energy Software, an ESCO-subsidiary, which produces a meter data management solution, among other products. “Without MDM, processing of meter data is often hard-wired to serve a particular application (e.g. customer billing) but is still relatively useless to other applications,” he added.

As utilities move to invest millions of dollars into their distribution systems through the advent of AMI, many may overlook the value of a meter data management system.

During a recent Chartwell audio conference presentation on the Energy Policy Act of 2005, Ross Malme, president and CEO of RETX, said there has been a traditional focus on advanced metering hardware rather than data applications. “In the business I’m in, it’s all about the data. It doesn’t really matter to me what meter is out there, if the data doesn’t end up where it needs to be in a timely manner,” he said.

Some utilities have realized the key role data manipulation and storage means to their overall goals of implementing AMI and have adjusted their strategies accordingly. Portland General Electric (PGE), which is moving toward implementing system-wide AMR by accepting requests for proposals from metering vendors, already has an MDMS in place-or, as they call it, a “meter data collector.”

“PGE has poked, prodded, tested and analyzed AMR (now AMI) for over a decade. Part of our perceived slowness is waiting for technology that is fully two-way and has functional capability to do more than just read the meter, i.e. drive-by systems. We learned over that time that the value is all in the data. It has to be rich, robust, available, and reliable to accomplish the various downstream business transactions. We also watched other utilities put in systems only to scramble to upgrade their information systems to handle the increased volumes of data,” said Bruce Carpenter, general manager of revenue operations for PGE.

As a result, PGE is building its AMI system from the “inside-out,” by first building a data warehouse and corresponding interfaces; second, installing the network to ensure scalability and throughput; and third, selecting and installing endpoint devices that are fully functional, said Carpenter.

Surveys Show Enhanced Interest

Chartwell’s proprietary data shows that utilities are becoming increasingly interested in installing advanced metering systems-fixed automated meter reading systems capable of providing frequent data on a daily or hourly basis on most customers. Moreover, that research also illustrates greater interest in meter data management and warehousing.

According to Chartwell’s 2005 AMR survey of 118 utilities, 29 percent of respondents said their utilities have installed advanced metering throughout a majority of their territories (see Figure 1, below). Another 51 percent said their utilities are either considering, planning or piloting advanced metering systems. Asked the same question in 2004, about an equal number of respondents said they had installed advanced metering. However, only 33 percent of respondents reported then that they were considering, planning or piloting such a system.

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On the meter data management and warehousing side, according to Chartwell’s 2005 survey, 34 percent of 109 respondents said their utilities have meter data warehouses installed, while 5 percent reported their utilities were piloting a system (see Figure 2, pg. 20). Forty-four percent of respondents said they were piloting, planning or considering a warehousing system, whereas only 20 percent reported they weren’t considering implementing a data warehouse.

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Comparing the results from 2004 and 2005 surveys, a tremendous surge in meter data management and warehousing installations took place in the period of a year. According to the 2004 survey, only 24 percent of respondents (23 of the 97) said they were using some sort of data warehouse, while 38 percent of respondents (37 out of 97) said they were either considering, planning or piloting data warehousing projects.

While these numbers show that a considerable number of utilities have implemented or are strongly considering implementing a data warehouse and management system, it’s worth noting they do not show the type or architecture of each system. And, there are differences that distinguish the old from new.

As John Wambaugh, vice president of operations for eMeter, pointed out to Chartwell in a late 2005 interview, the definition of MDM has changed. In what Wambaugh described as “one-way” MDM, or what people used to ascribe to MDM, he explains people talk about getting data from a number of difference sources-different data collection systems, manual, AMR, etc.-and bringing it in. “Doing validating, estimating and editing (VEE) on it and that is what quite a number of people think meter data management is,” Wambaugh said.

Nexus’ Brakken goes one step further with his analysis. He said many older MDM systems were not capable of processing and storing the volume of data generated from AMI today, nor were they intended to serve the wide range of business functions and systems that can benefit from AMI data.

“Legacy systems were essentially just repositories of monthly consumption data, combined with very limited hourly or sub-hourly data for large C&I and load research customers. The purpose of these systems was primarily to support just billing. Therefore, I would not characterize these systems as true MDM systems at all,” Brakken said. “I believe what is fundamentally different and better about the new generation of MDM systems is that they offer both transactional and data warehousing capability designed to support a wide variety of operational, planning, and strategic needs beyond just billing.”

Previous to the new trend of MDMS, meter data was stored in rudimentary data repositories or directly within the customer information system (CIS). Billing departments were often the only personnel that used it effectively because it was specifically structured for their use, as Brakken pointed out.

“One of the big frustrations historically of using AMR data for other purposes than billing has been the difficulty and effort required to marry meter data with customer, asset, financial, and other critical data entities utilized within utility business systems other than just CIS,” Brakken explained. “Utilities that simply collected meter data in huge repositories and put them on a shelf for others to come and access never anticipated how difficult it would be after the fact to align, synchronize, and aggregate this data into a useful form that can be utilized by the targeted business users and systems. As a result, many business users seeking additional benefits from AMR data have just given up.”

New MDMS, on the other hand, manages entity relationships, works out alignment, aggregation and synchronization and facilitates seamless access by targeted users and systems. Depending on how forward-thinking a utility is, and how interested different users may be in leveraging that meter data, MDM can help it recover costs on investment and increase efficiency.

“The utility meter is the point-of-sale equivalent to the retail store cash register. This asset can be utilized to simply track revenue, or to help direct and provide feedback on all strategic and operating decisions. Just as importantly, it can also provide customers with critical information to help them make choices and manage their costs,” Brakken said.

Added PGE’s Carpenter: “The meter data management tool sits between these two “Ëœworlds’ and is the translator that keeps the all the systems in balance, providing the appropriate request and data for each system. It also helps minimize the number of point-to-point interfaces by providing a common format to the data. Now that many IT organizations are moving towards the “Ëœservice bus’ architecture, the meter data management tool becomes an even more effective tool in providing data to more enterprise systems.”

Mark D. Hall is the Research Analyst for Chartwell’s Metering Research Series. In this role, he oversees research and production of in-depth reports and newsletters and plans Chartwell conferences on meter-related topics including AMR, AMI, MDMS and more.

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The Clarion Energy Content Team is made up of editors from various publications, including POWERGRID International, Power Engineering, Renewable Energy World, Hydro Review, Smart Energy International, and Power Engineering International. Contact the content lead for this publication at Jennifer.Runyon@ClarionEvents.com.

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