By Ian Gordon

So what has changed? In short, just about everything. The demand for information about energy consumption has dramatically increased in recent years spurred by market restructuring, higher energy prices, continued focus on profit margins, and environmental concerns. More potential users of the information place more requirements on making it readily available in various formats so that each business process has access to complete and accurate interval data.

The MDM system must be capable of meeting these existing demands and responding to future demands. As shown in Figure 1, the demands for interval meter data come from many areas of the energy value chain.

IMPLICATIONS FOR CORE MDM FUNCTIONALITY
At its core, an MDM system provides an ability to communicate with interval meters, retrieve and validate their data, and facilitate the editing and estimation of erroneous or missing data. The data’s associated financial and compliance implications make a rigorous security and audit underpinning vital. The MDM system must be able to attempt to avoid or automatically identify and recover from failures at any level.

Beyond today’s improved interval meter technology and systems, MDM solutions still require the flexibility to cope with remote meters:

  • Of multiple types
  • From various manufacturers
  • Configured in numerous ways
  • Located in different time zones
  • Operating many versions of a proprietary or public communications protocol
  • Connected to multiple types of communication networks
  • Using multiple types of communication devices.
SunGard1_3:2007

Figure 1 - Some of the demands for interval meter data

Some MDM systems on the market today lack the capability to interrogate remote meters. In this case, they must integrate a meter data retrieval system from another vendor. The challenge with this combination lies in managing the meter configuration data. Any changes to these configuration details must be handled automatically across the two systems to avoid confusion and inaccurate data.

First coined in the Direct Access Working Groups preparing for the ill-fated first phase of the Californian market, VEE (Validating, Estimating and Editing) defines key MDM criteria:

  • Validation ensures the accuracy of the interval data offered to others. The MDM system must perform a wide range of validation checks on interval data recorded by modern meters and on the register values/events/flags
  • Estimation capabilities must be flexible to allow application of different estimation techniques to different circumstances, such as estimating a missing day of data
  • Editing covers aggregation and reporting requirements. When metering equipment is not in the correct position on the network or multiple meters are producing data, getting to delivery point measurements requires aggregation. Users must be able to construct reports themselves to accommodate frequently changing user requirements without requiring programmer involvement.

AUTOMATION - DECREASING OPERATIONAL COSTS
Without inherent task automation, the number of operational staff involved in meter management processes is directly proportional to the number of meters being interrogated. The goal should be to automate every possible process to require human intervention only for the most difficult/critical issues.

How issues are brought to human attention becomes vital as data volumes increase. Managing over 100,000 meters presents a very different operational challenge from managing a few hundred. It demands solid workflow management to raise issues to team members with the skills to determine next tasks and escalation procedures.

An MDM system with good workflow management reduces the need for highly experienced metering engineers. It helps groups of staff trained in specific aspects of the business processes to work with a small core of key users who understand each process in detail. To minimise dependence on vendors’ software support services, at least one user should be a ‘super user’ with deep knowledge of the MDM system.

DATABASE AND INTEGRATION IMPLICATIONS
Consider the data storage implications for managing 15- minute data from 50,000 interval meters each recording four channels of kWh data (import, export, lead and lag) kept online for 3 years. It means safely storing over 20 billion interval values.

Today’s technology makes hardware for the storage a non-issue, but the MDM system needs a proven, reliable underlying database management system to ensure data safety. Archive/restore capabilities will also become essential and it is important to plan these functions at the design stage.

These data volumes also require an MDM system to provide different approaches to delivering information to different types of ‘customer’. Approaches might include:

Set of tools for building information bridges between the MDM system and other systems that need ready access to the interval data

Web interface for carefully controlled access to site information or other data that energy customers may download or view in tabular or graphical form

Functionality to manage the generation and delivery of data files to external parties using the ‘push’ approach.

ADDITIONAL BUILDING BLOCKS
The functionality described so far applies in both regulated and deregulated market environments, but deregulated markets may require additional building blocks.

Meter point configuration data
The MDM system must have the flexibility to associate additional entities with a metering point. Some entities may be permanent, e.g. meter point distribution area, but others may be transitory, e.g. supplier contracts. For any given trading date/time, the system must be able to identify the valid value for all configurable entities.

Each country/state may implement its own formats and mechanisms for information exchanges related to its deregulated market operation. Meter point configuration data is no exception. An MDM system in a deregulated environment must be able to receive, act upon and generate messages in the designated format.

In early MDM systems, the cost to implement this specific messaging capability was almost as much as all other MDM functionality. Fortunately, most vendors have now implemented some form of message exchange capability.

Audit and security
Audit is more than a basic requirement and, in a deregulated environment, it is even tougher. Multiple external parties may now face serious impacts to cash flow, sales revenue and profit if information in the MDM system is inaccurate or untimely.

Data access is now complicated by transitory relationships. A supplier may be able to access (or receive) data relating to the energy consumption of a particular customer site on one trading day, but not the next, if they have lost the contract; but they must still be able to see the data for the days when they were the supplier.

Adding data versioning can help to satisfy needs for ‘Who, What, When and Why’ audit recording. It allows a report/data extraction process to be rerun at any time in the future using the meter point configuration data as it was at the time, as it is now or at any time in between. This is useful for showing auditors why and how information flows to the market have changed.

Given these added considerations, the ideal MDM system looks like that in Figure 2.

SunGard2_3:2007

Figure 2 - MDM building blocks for a deregulated market

BUSINESS PROCESSES
Organisations operate through business processes such as managing metering configuration details, interval meter data and market reports. A specific business process may need to use multiple functions of the MDM system.

Each process step likely involves one or more functions of the MDM system, the use of which should be built around the business processes. Documented step-by-step operational procedures will help ensure data quality and completeness.

Before embarking on MDM system procurement, the organisation should carefully document its business processes. It can then review the MDM systems to verify that they can provide functionality to execute the business process steps – with flexibility for adjusting the process. Once the system has been chosen and installed, the operational procedures must document how the system is used for each process.

CONCLUSION
Over the past ten years, market deregulation has driven demand for large scale management of interval metering data. MDM systems have improved dramatically to meet these needs. It should be possible to meet most functional requirements today through system configuration rather than coding. It should also be easy to implement specialised local requirements outside the system using the vendor’s integration tools to preserve overall system integrity.

The MDM system itself is no longer an island isolated by the users or by technology. It can be completely integrated within the organisation’s IT infrastructure and users trained to perform defined roles. No longer must all users be experienced metering engineers.

Today’s technology equips us far better to deliver a high quality, cost effective meter data collection service meeting the needs of every customer who wants to exploit the information value of the kWh.