By Klaus Livik, Lars Lindström

Today, Sweden is in the process of rolling out smart metering capabilities to more than 5.2 million customers. It is the largest and most complex communications project the country has ever performed, and is scheduled for completion in 2009. In Norway, a similar project for 2.6 million customers will be finished in 2013. To make smart metering a reality for all customers, utilities need the expertise to organise large scale smart metering projects with exceptional efficiency.

UNDERSTANDING THE ORGANISATIONAL MODELS FOR DATA COLLECTION
Utilities can choose from a variety of organisational models for data collection. The following four examples represent the most popular models:

  • Internal data collection. The utility – as a grid owner – performs all data collection. Small utilities frequently use only one meter vendor and one communication technology. Medium and large utilities, however, typically use meters from at least three different vendors, and either one ‘open platform’ data collection system or several vendor-specific data collection systems.
  • External meter data collection, internal meter data management. Having metered values collected, validated and ready to be imported to the meter data management system (MDMS) is a popular concept among the largest utilities. This model includes contracts that guarantee various performance metrics, such as “99.7% of metered data ready for billing on given weekdays.” In projects like this, the operational part is included in the contract for establishing the Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI).
  • Data collection as a third-party service. Some utilities (usually small or medium-size companies) perform meter data collection on behalf of other utilities, as a third-party service. This model secures critical amounts of metered data so the operation gains some large-scale efficiency. With one open platform data collection system, it is easier to share resources and best practices among partner utilities in this model.
  • Third-party metering companies. In many countries, metering companies handle metering on behalf of the utility. However, the utility retains legal responsibility for ensuring customers receive accurate bills.

Powel solutions for data collection and meter data management, including rollout work orders and meter device management, provide the flexibility utilities need to handle a long list of platform, functionality and security issues under all four models.

EFFICIENT ROLLOUT ROUTINES – A KEY TO SUCCESS
A few years ago, more than 30% of the costs of Nordic smart metering projects were attributed to the installation of meter devices. Experience has shown that installing and uninstalling meters and communication devices in smart metering projects is more expensive if it is not done systematically with efficient support systems.

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Schematic of data collection and meter data
management process

For this kind of operation one needs an asset management system that follows all kinds of devices used for metering and collection of meter values ‘from the cradle to the grave’. Devices suitable to such a management system are typically meters, terminals and metering transformers. Work orders for different metering-related actions are created by the system, and route planning for meter reading and meter replacement must be carried out by it.

In Powel these rollout features are included as an integral part of the meter data management system (Powel MDMS). As the result of client wishes, Powel’s system has been enhanced to enable audit reports, customer complaints, etc. to be connected to the specific device or occurrence. Thanks to the system integration between Powel MDMS and commercial billing systems, all additional necessary information about customers is updated daily in workers’ personal data assistants (PDAs), enabling them to carry out their work orders.

This solution ensures that the meter states are automatically saved to the correct time series in the MDMS. Moreover, technical information and counters necessary to control metered values and the corresponding read meter states, are saved in the MDMS. An MDMS with rollout features and system integration to the CIS/billing system is cost efficient and conducive toward making smart metering rollouts run smoothly and safely.

CAPACITY CHALLENGES FOR OPEN DATA COLLECTION IN GPRS NETWORKS
GPRS technology is gaining increased market share on the communication side of smart metering in Nordic countries. At the same time, its costs are decreasing and its applicability is improving. Some capacity questions remain, however, despite its growing popularity. For example, communication servers in an always-online solution may have capacity problems when it exceeds 20,000 interval time series. Powel data collection solutions address this challenge by allowing utilities to operate a flexible number of communication servers. For off-line solutions (connection every night only), the data collection software works well even with a large number of meters (multi-points).

FROM AMR TO SMART METERING, FROM METEREd VALUE TO NEW SERVICES
All Nordic utilities have invested in AMI with AMR functionality for large customers as a result of legislated requirements. Today, discussions focus on how to upgrade existing meters and AMI to include new services and emerging functionality. These tasks will require more smart meters, more communications data, more flexible meter data management and more flexible billing engines.

Examples of new services include load switching (I/O) and the ability to set parameters for voltage, current, temperature and others. Logging of events such as interrupts, magnetic fields and detections are other examples of services that smart metering solutions may need to provide.

It is functionality in the Powel solution that makes data collection protocols scalable. That means the adapter can manage time series and register external events when meters are expanded from AMR to include other smart metering services.

There is no doubt about the potential benefits of smart metering. Smart meters and meter data management are among the top key strategic initiatives utilities are addressing in the next 2 to 3 years, and indispensable for all market parties.

Utilities that apply a systematic approach to implementing their smart metering rollout will be successful in managing the many parties involved and stand to gain the most in the utility industry of the future.