Enhance profits with advanced PLC AMR system

Advanced automated meter reading (AMR) systems available now can offer enormous benefits to utilities worldwide. Advanced two-way systems allow increased operating profits and cost savings, as well as increased communication and control for system integrity, reliability, and customer service.

One such system was installed at residential premises, offices and stores in Caracas, Venezuela. It was provided to Electricidad de Caracas (EDC) the largest utility in Venezuela, serving several million customers in urban and rural areas.

The system provides automated meter readings transmitted to the utility’s central offices, at scheduled intervals and on demand. The direct transmission of metered data uses powerline carrier (PLC) communication between meters and concentrators, and telephone communication from the concentrators to the central offices. This system eliminates the costs of manual meter readings and the mishandling of data.

Further significant cost savings were realised by identifying tampering, theft and improper installations. This is done at two levels. At the individual meter, instances of reverse rotation, meter slowing and bypass are uncovered using both event recording and historical data.

On a larger scale, the EDC system used time-synchronised data from meters and distribution transformers. This revealed significant losses that occurred only at certain periods. After analysis conducted by EDC and the system provider, the loss was isolated and contained. In this particular case, an underground feeder had been connected directly to a customer’s load! The remedy yielded immediate savings for the utility.

A two-way communication system was necessary to match the measurements from distribution system components. The system ensures that transmitted data is time synchronised; real time clocks are checked and updated as necessary. The data is thus useful in measuring overall system loads and accurately displaying a customer’s load profile.

Power Line Communication

Two-way communication also allowed the utility to send out customer notifications and alerts. For prepayment, a tokenless, cardless system was proposed, with energy bought from a point of sale station. Customers are typically alerted via a small LCD display screen that plugs into standard electrical outlets when their credit is nearly depleted. Although present energy distribution laws do not allow the use of prepayment, the capability is functional and can be used without modification when regulations allow.

Load contactors are remotely activated to disconnect or reconnect loads. The utility benefits through better revenue collection, while operational and labour costs are reduced. In addition the high risk to utility personnel operating in certain areas of Caracas is eliminated. While difficult to quantify, there are direct benefits relating to employee satisfaction, reduced injuries and absenteeism.

In the future, multiple tariffs, time of use pricing and even real time pricing, as allowed by rate structures and approvals, can be implemented with the two-way communication system. This promises great strides in efficiency, reliability, and peak demand control and levelling. Ancillary benefits include energy conservation and environmental protection.

Key to the successful implementation of an advanced system such as that used by EDC is the ability of real time communication and information to flow from customers to the utility and from the utility to customers. This enables effective control based on current information.

EDC minimised communications costs by using state-of-the-art spread spectrum PLC communication technology, which allows many meters to be connected to a data concentrator. Only one link to a public network from this concentrator is used to send or receive data and information. This use of public networks further reduces overall system costs.

In a time of increasing electrical demands and increasing needs for customer service, and with the current advances in telecommunications, many utilities are looking to advanced real-time two-way communication systems for AMR and customer communication. The benefits of increased profit-ability and stable revenue streams are important drivers of this trend. As competition grows and state-owned enterprises come under increasing scrutiny, all energy service providers must start implementing technologies that will enable them to grow and prosper in the longer term.

For more information contact Al Lutz at ajlutz@comverge-tech.com.