Flexible automated monitoring gives Ontario Hydro a competitive edge

he aim of Ontario Hydro’s multi-vendor meter communication system is to detect and resolve hardware failures quickly. This ensures availability of consumption data for customers and collection of revenue billing data.

The utility’s billing group, on the other hand, collects data from the same meters using a different data collection system. The billing system collects on a weekly and sometimes monthly basis. A meter failure could mean the loss of a significant amount of accumulated revenue data, essential for accurate billing.

In order to establish a proactive system for monitoring and reacting to hardware failures, the meter group decided to purchase Energy Analyser Plus (EA+) through Charlotte-based Siemens Power Transmission & Distribution, LLC, Meter Division (formerly Process Systems Inc) in the USA.

SPECIFICATIONS

Ontario Hydro’s specification required a capability to dial approximately 1600 meters on a daily basis, which would allow the utility to offer the fastest possible response to problems. Data collection speed is important, because Ontario Hydro wishes to leave communication lines fully available during the day for customer access. Multi-vendor functionality is essential, because several metering systems are used. Capability for unattended central data collection operations is also considered important, to keep operational costs at a minimum.

EA+ monitors 1600 meter points over telephone, radio and cell phone communications. Data is collected on a 24 hour cycle from hardware, including Siemens Sentry S100 and S200 recorders and Siemens Quad4®/MAXsys® meters. EA+ collects the status register values (diagnostic error codes) and 5 or 15 minute interval consumption data. Over 150mb of data is collected and stored per month.

SYSTEM DETAILS

The system runs on three PCs, each capable of processing 500 remote meters through four communication ports. The ports collect data concurrently, providing an overall collection time of as little as 3 hours. Even though many of the communication lines are operating at 300 baud, the status register and interval data is still retrieved in an average of 90 seconds per meter. In the future, if Ontario Hydro requires a faster communications capability, the system can be upgraded to collect simultaneously from 16 points per client PC.

The system is PC based and operates in the Microsoft NT environment. Data is streamlined directly from meter to a relational SQL database using client-server architecture; this avoids the inflexible file transfer processes associated with many AMR platforms. An important benefit of this process is that Ontario Hydro can interrogate the database directly through SQL queries, or simply create reports with EA+’s own spreadsheet-style formula language.

The remote meter history file holds the 100 most recent date and time stamped status codes. Ontario Hydro retrieves these to identify a range of remote meter problems, such as the time of occurrence and duration of non-operability of power failures. Power quality problems such as phase failures and blown fuses can also be identified and monitored.

Each remote meter stores only event codes. When a master end report is run EA+ assigns meaningful text to the report. (See Table 1). Meter and communication failures are analysed each morning, and repair work orders are sent to the 40 regional offices as required.

Table 1: Sample status codes with their descriptions

Status Code Event Description
1 AC power down
2 AC power up
5 Recorder clock malfunction detected
7 RAM error detected
9 Meter input #1 register overflow detected
13 Status input 1 closed
14 Status input 1 open
23 Unit accessed
24 Password changed
81 Battery low
101 Modem failure
107 Rate (demand) reset
192 Phase A loss short
207 Power quality event

EA+ software was installed relatively quickly by migrating existing setup data from the billing group to the equipment monitoring group. Simple visual basic routines were applied to the master file, and the data was uploaded into EA+ using SQL scripts. The use of the vendor-supplied migration toolkit allowed installation to be completed in less than ten days.

Ontario Hydro uses EA+ software to monitor the meter network EXPANDING THE SYSTEM’S SCOPE

The system is currently in operation for the primary purpose of system analysis and monitoring. However, the Ontario Hydro metering group sees a number of opportunities for expanding the scope of the system.

Data could be passed to the billing group to fill gaps of missing data, using export facilities in simple text files for import into other software systems. There are also plans to use the consumption data further, and offer reporting on the detection of zero values.

Reporting on power quality messages is yet another opportunity. Automatic analysis and reporting capabilities mean power quality reports can be run on a scheduled basis. Exception parameters can be applied to the schedules, so a report is only distributed if triggered by a specified event – for example, a single-phase switching failure. In this way the flexible IT architecture leads directly to customer service improvements, which are not possible without a high degree of automation. This avoids the inflexible and time-consuming processes of older data collection systems, where error detection often means conversion into a text file followed by a manual text string search.

Further down the line the meter group may even use the software to provide value added information services directly to consumers. In the UK the same software is used by four of the 12 regional electricity companies (RECs) to provide information services to their commercial and industrial customers.

While there are exciting future opportunities for the utility’s wholesale metering and consulting group to consider, Ontario Hydro is presently successfully using automated monitoring systems to improve customer services. Hardware failures are now routinely resolved before the customer is even aware of a problem. In addition, the corporation is further secured against loss of data, bringing the need to estimate missing data to an absolute minimum.

With deregulation bringing uncertainty and change throughout the energy industry, flexible automated monitoring is giving Ontario Hydro a valuable competitive edge.