By Luiz Antonio Garbelotto

Suppose you are the owner of a product delivery business, which is essential to all inhabitants of a state – a product that everybody needs continuously, with not a second of interruption if possible, whether in homes, at commercial points or in industries, from the wealthiest to poorest and the largest to smallest. And more, suppose you had the privilege of being the sole authorised supplier of such a product in that state. You would say: “Don’t tell me! This is the world every entrepreneur dreamed about!”

But (and there will always be some “buts”), there are some conditions: Product delivery must be in-home and there is nobody to do it – there is a physical network through which the product just flows to the consumer. And there is a machine to measure the quantity consumed, which you install inside the customer’s property and then in addition you ask him to take care of. It is that simple, is it not?

One knows the culture of “taking advantage of everything” and some people without much scruple, with the opportunity with a measuring device inside the property to receive a product away from the seller’s eyes, cannot resist the temptation and invent some or other cunning scheme to make the device measure less than what is really consumed.

But, it is not just that. You have more than two million customers, each with one of these devices installed, and you need someone to go there at least once a month to verify the amount of product consumed. As a specialist in the distribution business of your product, you are well acquainted to modern management tools and have contracted the service of consumption data collection to a third party.

And then one day, thinking to yourself, you realise that your entire revenue depends on the information brought by third parties. The $2.5 billion you expect to bill depends on third parties! You would then say: “Are you kidding? This business is not that good!”

Then, good news comes. Information is received on an invention that brings the consumption data through the physical network that you installed to take your product to the customer. Furthermore, the consumption data need not only be monthly but hourly and there will be information about the quality of your product when it reaches the customer. And from your office, without the need to go out to the customer, you can cut the supply of those who don’t pay the bills – and one knows how hard it is to deal with such cases.

This business is of course electricity distribution, the measuring device is the electricity meter, and the invention is power line communications (PLC) between the substation and the customer’s point of connection.

With such considerations in mind the metering department of Celesc Distribuição started to search for better solutions. It searched the available technologies, tested prototypes, invested in R&D projects, visited companies that had implemented advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) and asked suppliers to show their solutions. The projected vision is of a system for data collection from all consumers and all distribution transformers. The collected data would serve as inputs to the technical and commercial areas of the company, including planning of the electric system, market studies, operation, maintenance, energy efficiency, billing, call centre, revenue protection, and others that would find useful applications for them.

The challenges
With this vision established, the company moved to the most difficult phase: how to accomplish it? There is a huge abyss separating today’s way of operating a distribution company from that imagined for tomorrow. What bridge to build? What strategy to choose? With two million points, what would a system of this size cost? What about the human impacts? What about the resistance to change? How would employees react facing the new and unknown? And the clients, what would they say?

Launching such an enterprise would be a colossal challenge. But, consider the words of an old Brazilian adage: “Slow down the sedan chair because the statue is made of clay. Prudence lies between boldness and caution.” Therein lies the answer – neither more prototypes nor full-scale deployment, but a system miniature operating in real conditions – a pilot.

communication system

The communication system

The pilot project
Celesc’s pilot project – SAM (Sistema Automatizado de Medição – automated metering system) – covers 5,166 low voltage customers, 106 medium voltage customers and 113 distribution transformers, connected to two feeders of a substation in Blumenau, a city in southern Brazilian state of Santa Catarina. Nansen is responsible for the execution of the turnkey contract.

Basically, the system is comprised of three levels: Control centre, substation communication equipment, and remote communication equipment.

The control centre, located at Celesc’s headquarters in Florianopolis, is the operations centre of the system. It includes a server, where the software for parameterisation, monitoring, operation and maintenance of the system is installed. Data coming from the remote communication equipment is also stored on the server.

The substation communication equipment is installed in the Blumenau- Garcia substation, while the remote communication equipment is installed together with the meters at the customers’ premises.

The communication system is a fixed network between the remote and substation equipment, using Aclara’s TWACS PLC technology. In addition to the network between the remote points and the substation, a Celesc owned channel is used for communication between the substation and the control centre.

The pilot project aims to achieve several goals: to test the technology, to identify the risks to be faced in a full-scale deployment, to produce unabridged documentation about perceptions, requisites and preferences that will serve as lessons learned, and to test concepts. To that end, the pilot project has the following functionalities:

  • Hourly automatic meter reading to obtain individual consumer load profiles
  • Remote connection and disconnection of energy supply in case of non-payment at 50 premises
  • Energy balance at each distribution transformer, allowing evaluation of technical losses, detection of non-technical losses and verification of the transformer loading
  • Monitoring of faults
  • Integration with the billing system.

Celesc believes that one of the critical factors for the success of a project is communication. Therefore, since the beginning of the project in March 2007, many actions have been implemented across the company to get the involvement of employees and also of directors and managers. All staff can contribute, directly or indirectly, to the success of the project. All possible media are used – meetings, folders, internal bulletins, intranet, etc.

Communication with stakeholders is also important, especially with the clients who are having their meters exchanged. For that purpose, letters and information folders were sent. Generally speaking, communication with customers is through newspapers and also by way of meetings with the federal metrological department, Inmetro.

Conclusions
We are living in a new order today. Conventional energy sources are not endless: natural resources are limited and global warming threatens the quality of life of future generations. Rational and efficient use of energy is the theme of the day. Electrical equipment and network projects must be tighter and to that end it is necessary to have finer “bites” of load data in order to improve load management.

In times when one cannot lose time, it should not be lost in asking wrong questions. There are no right answers to wrong questions. Do not ask if utilities should undertake AMI projects, but when.