In the past, we considered deploying automated meter reading (AMR) systems based solely on the value of automating the meter reading function. But this criterion alone did not enable us to build a credible business case for deploying AMR in Nevada Power Company’s territory in southern Nevada, because we have very low costs for manual meter reading with easy access to most meters – not to mention an extremely productive staff.

In 2004, we identified additional drivers for building the business case for AMR with smart meters that have enhanced two-way communications. The 46,555 new meters we installed in 2004 at Nevada Power, and the transient nature of our population, became very real drivers for us to take another look at the business case for AMR. With about 50,000 turn-on/turn-off service orders each month, we saw a need for an advanced metering system that would enable us to service our customers more quickly and more cost-effectively. These were the primary drivers for us to deploy a test pilot using Elster Electricity’s EnergyAxis® System with smart REX® meters. The EnergyAxis System gives us the ability to perform remote connects and disconnects and make off-cycle meter reads from a remote location.

In our pilot project we are looking to prove that the technology works. Additionally, we hope to see an increase in customer satisfaction from the convenience the remote connect/disconnect service provides, and an improvement in business operations by eliminating off-cycle trips to the field every month.

WHY WE SELECTED ELSTER’S ENERGYAXIS SYSTEM

Several factors drove our decision to test the EnergyAxis System for our remote service connect and disconnect needs, and for automated meter reading.

  • Nevada Power’s business relationship with Elster Electricity spans more than just my own 23 years with the company. We conducted business with them when they were Westinghouse, then had a formal business alliance with them as ABB Electricity Metering, and continue doing business with them today.
  • Elster Electricity is our primary supplier of single phase electromechanical meters.
  • Additionally, in the early 1990s, I was one of the customers who participated on the original ALPHA® electronic meter design team. So our familiarity with the ALPHA meter technology, and the fact that the REX meter uses some of that same time-proven ALPHA technology at the collection point, also influenced our decision to test the EnergyAxis System.
  • Finally, we were sold on the potential advantages that the EnergyAxis System technology offers after visiting Salt River Project in Arizona, where they successfully ran a test pilot and have now moved into a large-scale deployment. Seeing the success of Salt River Project’s deployment, which is in a similar service area, was very positive.

Aliante - a planned community in North Las Vegas where the meters are being tested

TEST PILOT DEPLOYMENT

Initially, we plan to deploy the EnergyAxis System with 2,500 REX meters and test the system for six months to one year to fully evaluate the system technology. Two areas were identified for the test pilot.

  1. We are installing 1,000 REX meters with the remote connect/disconnect feature in an apartment condominium complex that has a high turnover rate and where we typically expect to see a significant number of delinquency credit actions.
  2. The remaining 1,500 REX meters will be installed in a new residential community called Aliante, located in the rapidly growing city of North Las Vegas. In this location we will test the automated meter reading capabilities of the EnergyAxis System and REX meters without the disconnect feature. We selected this area to serve as a test bed for AMR because it is in an area of the valley that lies beyond the boundaries of our existing meter reading routes.

We received the EnergyAxis System with REX meters at the end of 2004 and started deployment in January 2005. We plan to have all 2,500 REX meters for the test pilot in service by the end of the first quarter 2005. With the successful completion of our pilot system testing, we will then look at budgeting additional funds to add meters with the connect/disconnect feature, mostly in high-density areas such as apartment, condominium, and townhouse complexes.

ENERGYAXIS SYSTEM TECHNOLOGY

The EnergyAxis System is an intelligent two-way 900 MHz radio frequency (RF) network for metering communications. There are three major components: the EnergyAxis Metering Automation Server (MAS), REX meters, and A3 ALPHA meters that act as local data collectors. The MAS server communicates with A3 ALPHA meter collectors via a public wide area network (WAN). The A3 ALPHA® meter collector uses a two-way radio frequency communication system to communicate with the REX meters within the two-way RF local area network.

Since each A3 ALPHA meter collector can handle as many as 1024 REX meters, we will be using one meter collector at the apartment condominium complex and two meter collectors in the Aliante residential community. The REX meters installed in the residential community will be set up to do scheduled billing data reads. In the apartment complex, the REX meters will allow us to do off-cycle billing data reads before we initiate service connects and disconnects.

The optional service control switch within the REX meters (under the glass) that we are testing at the apartment complex is capable of remotely connecting or disconnecting power at the meter. The remote service control feature will eliminate the need for us to send a meter technician into the field to place sleeves on the meter stabs for service disconnects. Additionally, we will be able to turn on service to customers from our office within minutes after a customer makes the request.

The system also provides several built-in reports to track performance and can export data in XML, making it easy to import into many other commercial software application packages. This enables fast and easy data handling that offers a potential for several areas within the utility that need to analyse or report on customer load data or service characteristics.

THE BUSINESS CASE FOR SMART METERING

Remotely connecting and disconnecting service was the primary driver of the business case for testing an automated meter reading system for our service area. Because of the high turnover rate in certain areas of Las Vegas, we incur a significant expense making trips to the field to do a hard disconnect and putting sleeves on the meter stabs, and then returning in a couple of days or weeks to reconnect service for the new customer. Additionally, because we have rapid growth of residential housing in fringe areas around Las Vegas, we believe that AMR may eliminate some of the need for us to reorganise and balance our established meter reading routes.

After identifying our need for remote connects and disconnects, we allocated funds for a pilot and began looking for technology to test. There were two obstacles that delayed us in finding a suitable disconnect feature to test. First, we found that most disconnects available on the market were in a collar or an adapter outside the meter, but these devices did not allow us to do an off-cycle read of the meter registers just before we disconnected service. This meant that a meter reader had to go out to the meter to do an off-cycle billing read or wait until the normal billing read. That delay in getting a final billing read is critical for us, because we need to issue a final bill immediately after the disconnect. The longer the wait to issue a final bill, the less likely it is that we will receive payment from the previous customer. The ability to do remote off-cycle billing reads before a service disconnect was one key feature that sold us on testing the EnergyAxis System.

The cost of the technology was another factor that impacted our selection of the EnergyAxis System for remote service connects and disconnects. We found that the cost of other disconnect technologies available on the market was 50 to 100 percent higher than REX meters with the connect/disconnect option. Because the technology of the EnergyAxis System is so unique and cost-effective, we were able to justify using this equipment in our test pilot without spending the additional time to get competitive bids on a test system.

Nevada Power metering electrician Lance Aguirre,

Nevada Power metering electrician Lance Aguirre, busy with a meter installation

CONCLUSION

For the short term, Nevada Power Company is concentrating on buying and building more energy generation resources to free us from a dependence on an energy market that has shown itself to be fairly volatile, and to provide long-term price stability and system reliability for our customers. Our customers and the communities we serve are the most important assets we have, and we are always looking for ways to make life easier for them while providing our shareholders with value for their investment.

Like most other people in the US, Nevadans are looking for ways to get their services handled more quickly and more conveniently. The telephone and Internet are taking the place of district offices for many services. Payments, billing questions, and service orders can now be handled by phone and via the Internet. From what we have seen so far, the EnergyAxis System with smart REX meters fits well into this new way of doing business. If the system evaluation goes as expected, we look forward to continuing to enhance customer service and improve business operations with the advanced metering technology offered by the EnergyAxis System.