Strategy for AMR at Dong Energy

DONG Energy was formed as a result of the merging of the largest power distribution utilities in Denmark and a natural gas distribution utility. In 2002 it was decided to develop a smart metering concept based on GSM and wireless local communication, to establish a low speed cost-effective residential gateway integrated in the power meter.

The meter has been developed in co-operation with a number of suppliers worldwide within a timeframe of two years and at a cost of €1 million. The meter includes simple home automation with a silent burglar alarm and a remote controlled power switch for the wall outlet. The customer interface is the existing cell (mobile) phone using a very simple command structure/menu.

In 2006 the concept will be enhanced to include gas meters, fibre to the home as an alternative to GSM, and further home automation functions. This will allow the use of prepayment and dedicated load control to enhance the end customer market capabilities.

The development is controlled by DONG Energy (formerly Nesa A/S) using a lean project organisation based on internal networking to get access to the in-depth knowledge in the operational departments. The staff have remained in these departments to strengthen the operational ownership.

An example of an efficient global network-based evolution, the meters will be installed according to the actual business opportunities. The GSM communication provides the necessary flexibility to support this ‘cherry picking’ business strategy.

SMART READ METER

Smart read meter

In order to fulfil the need for remote electric metering at selected customers’ premises, and to provide those customers with a low speed and low cost residential gateway, a smart meter has been developed and produced.

The 3 phase electric meter contains a combined GSM modem and a data logger with a ZigBee local wireless communication channel for smart home applications. The meter fits both the modern DIN rail and the older DIN pin connectors widely used in Denmark’s existing meters.

The meter has no user interface, except the required LCD display showing the counter, connected phases and a status for the GSM communication. The data logger can be set remotely in terms of logging and reporting intervals. The actual reading of the meter can be performed by the customer or the staff at the utility within 10 seconds.

The data logger surveys voltage level and alerts the utility if the level does not comply with the IEC norms, or if one or more phases are disconnected. The time for black-out and the time for return of the supply are registered in the meter and can be read later if needed. This meets the specifications of voltage supply surveillance in Denmark, and probably most of the world.

The smart home application has been limited to a simple silent alarm (on customers’ cell phone(s)) and an outlet control plug. We expect that other sensors and controls will be available on the commodity market during the years to come. The smart home applications are designed to meet the needs of the market where the low price and simple interface are vital.

USER INTERFACE

The user interface is the existing cell phone using a very simple command structure. The command ‘A1’ sent to the GSM number 800 will set the alarm on. There is no need for user PIN codes, as the cell phone number always follows an SMS (text message). The cell phone number is used to identify the actual meter installed at the user’s home.

We chose GSM in the initial rollout to obtain the necessary geographic flexibility and to ensure a highly reliable two-way communication channel. The SIM card operator can be changed over the air, to prevent a single operator from controlling the service and price. Further, the firmware of the data logger and the local smart home functions can be updated over the air. This functionality has reduced the operational costs in the early phases of the rollout and field tests.

The support functions at the customer interaction system, the staff support system and the like have been designed to prevent the occurrence of any manual errors, as experience tells us that these errors are extremely costly to detect and to correct.

DEVELOPMENT PROCESS

The specification of the functions and the overall design was established by Nesa. It was not possible to find an existing AMR meter that met the specifications, so a number of development partners were identified to create the complete system at a competitive price and within a short time frame. As meter reading is embedded in most processes in a utility, key staff members from all departments were appointed to join the project organisation. The staff members undertook this only as a part-time job, to ensure the link to the mother department. The disadvantage of this arrangement was that there was less direct staff control in the project. However, the fact that the project was new and challenging made up for this, and it has not been too difficult to manage it.

The external partners were located in Denmark, China and the US, so frequent project meetings have not been a practical option. Weekly or daily telephone conferences including relevant partners, often at odd hours because of the time differences in the various countries, combined with a simple mutual documentation of issues and decisions in a spreadsheet showing all meetings in separate columns have proved to be very efficient.

The two major challenges using this type of development have been to co-ordinate the detailed specifications and to control the quality of the deliveries. These have been the reason for the few unforeseen setbacks in the process.

In total more than six different partners have been involved, and it has been possible to achieve the desired AMR system within a short time and at low cost.

ROLLOUT

The initial vision was to install the meter in every household, but the economic situation in Denmark today does not support this. The meters will be installed at all industrial, small and medium enterprises and selected major customers in accordance with the economics.

New requirements and a change of economic parameters can change the rollout strategy. If the added services are requested by more customers than we estimated, or if the regulator sets up new requests for documentation of supply quality or frequent meter reading, the rollout will be adjusted accordingly.

FURTHER DEVELOPMENTS

If the rollout has to be more dense than the actual plan, powerline communication may be competitive when compared to GSM, as the flexibility is less vital to the concept. Selection and trials of appropriate powerline communication systems are in process. The existing systems are expected to be enhanced in terms of reliability and the ability to meet the communication needs, including smart home functions.

As fibre to many customers’ homes will be available in the near future, a modified version of the smart read meter will be developed to utilise this inexpensive communication channel and to add more metering channels for natural gas meters and other meters. The multi-channel system will also be available with the existing GSM communication system.