Transforming Meter Data into Knowledge

Ed Thomas | Mar 06, 2003

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Electric and gas utilities have a tremendous amount of data about their customers locked away in multiple metering systems across the enterprise. Typically, companies use this data in organizational silos such as customer service, load research and forecasting, and, of course, billing. The successful utility of tomorrow will leverage this data throughout the enterprise.

What Is Meter Data Management?
Meter data management is the process of collecting, analyzing and applying meter data to facilitate decision-making. Data collection is the capture of measurements as the commodity moves through the value chain. Analysis is the conversion of the meter data into information that can be used to serve customers, measure profitability, forecast load, and manage risk. Application is getting this information out to groups both inside and outside of the organization to use in the decision-making process.

Industry Forces
External factors such as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Standard Market Design (“SMD”) proposal, the softening of the wholesale energy market, and the failure of deregulation are influencing the energy value chain in many ways. In response to these forces, utilities are pursuing diverse tactical initiatives such as risk management, demand response, and cost containment. These initiatives require high-quality information about customer usage patterns to deliver value. These developments are forcing utilities to ask some tough questions.

Meter Reading

  • Will automated meter reading (“AMR”) technology help reduce costs?
  • How can meter reading improve its support of downstream business processes such as billing, demand response, and outage management?
  • How can meter-reading technologies be best deployed to cover the utility’s service territory?

Customer Service

  • How can the utility best serve its largest customers?
  • How can the billing system support more complex rate structures?
  • What can customer service do to satisfy customer requests for information?
  • Can large account managers get the data that they need to support their customers?
  • What service options can the utility offer to the emerging mid-size commercial and industrial (“C&I”) segment? Marketing
  • How can the utility more effectively target customers for programs such as demand response and load control?
  • If the utility offers new products and programs, how can success be measured?
  • How does the organization measure customer and product profitability?

System Operations

  • Does the utility have the tools to manage congestion and perform accurate system forecasts?
  • What steps can the utility take to minimize unexpected settlement charges from the market operator?
  • How does a utility unlock the value of data in its energy management system?
  • How can the organization use actual usage data to plan for transmission and distribution construction and maintenance?

Energy Accounting

  • Is it possible to reduce the amount of time to perform wholesale energy accounting and market settlement?
  • Can the utility interact with wholesale entities in an optimal manner?

Information Technology

  • How can a utility reduce the cost to operate and support its enabling systems?
  • Does the utility’s application architecture hinder or enable process integration?

The answers to some of these questions lie buried in the utility’s systems and processes in the various forms that the organization stores meter and other operational data. Meter data management processes and technology can be an enabler to help a utility answer the questions. The following table illustrates the role of meter data management as an enabler of the enterprise:

Current State of Meter Data Management in the Utility Industry
The current state of meter data management can be described as disjointed at best. Due to the inherent limitations in collection technologies and geographic constraints, utilities cannot take a “one-size-fits-all” approach. These limitations have led utilities to deploy one system for the mass market and another for the large C&I segment. Since this data’s primary use is for billing, mass market metering data is typically resident within the utility’s customer information system. Large C&I metering data and its load profile data are typically managed in an application such as MV-90 or in an internally developed data repository. The following figure illustrates this disjointed architecture.

Figure 1: Current State of Meter Data Management

These processes and the underlying technologies lead to performance problems in metering and downstream business processes. Utilities tend to build organizational silos between the meter reading organization and its customers. This organization leads to high error rates and multiple hand-offs. In addition to organizational issues, these fragmented processes result in poor decision making across the enterprise as a result of the use of estimates and of outdated versions of meter data. Also, the lack of integrated meter data management processes can result in a higher degree of customer dissatisfaction through billing errors. In the end, current meter data management processes cost more to the utility to execute and maintain than they should.

Future State of Meter Data Management
The vision of meter data management is based on an integrated data repository. The meter data management system becomes the hub for the collection, translation, and application of metering data as used inside and outside the organization. This repository should integrate the mass market and C&I meter-reading systems and SCADA measurement systems into one vendor-independent data store. The downstream processes and systems that use this data should access the data through standard application interfaces. The following figure illustrates this vision.

Figure 2: Future Vision for Meter Data Management

As one can see from the figure above, the future vision extends the value of meter data throughout the enterprise. The value of this extension includes the following:

  • Central data storage for meter data regardless of source (residential, large C&I, or SCADA) and of collection method (AMR or handheld)
  • All business processes that require meter data use the same data, therefore, reducing errors in analysis and decision making
  • Customers can access their meter data over the Internet to understand their usage patterns and its impact on their bill
  • Minimal point-to-point system interfaces through robust systems integration and an open, standards-based architecture
  • Data generated in one organizational unit (e.g., load forecasting) can be easily used by another unit (e.g., marketing)

The meter data management system is the core enabler of this vision. The meter data management system must be able to extend the value of metering data to the enterprise via an open application architecture based on standards. The system should perform complex calculations and aggregations with a user-friendly interface. To address external market relationships, the system must produce meter data in approved market format. Since the MDM system is the system of record for all meter data, it must provide robust versioning, auditing, and security capabilities to provide a high degree of data integrity.

As the future state of meter data management continues to evolve, key themes are emerging across process and technology. Some of these themes include the following:

  • As energy markets continue to mature, settlement requirements may require more frequent data collection.
  • In some cases, utilities will need to integrate data collection across its value chain.
  • The emergence of risk-based pricing models (e.g., real-time pricing and time-of-use) will challenge legacy systems.
  • Customers, particularly C&I customers, will demand more reliable and timely access to usage data, specifically load profile data.
  • Utilities will use meter data management systems to measure the degree of compliance and effectiveness of demand response programs.
  • Restructuring utilities will see high value in the integration of schedule, real-time SCADA, and revenue-quality data as an input into the settlement reconciliation process.

A successful meter data management deployment should integrate processes and break down organizational silos. All downstream processes can obtain timely and accurate revenue-quality data from the utility’s meter reading systems. Marketing can gain greater insight on program effectiveness and customer profitability through access to meter data. System Operations provides candidates for demand response programs to marketing. Energy Accounting needs to integrate schedules, forecasts, SCADA, and metering data to provide more accurate settlement data to the market operator.

The Bottom Line
Effective meter data management means getting the right data to the right user enabled with the right tools to make the decisions that optimize the delivery and use of energy. The potential benefits to a utility regardless of industry value chain segment are enormous.

  • Utilities can increase profitability through process efficiencies, reduction in errors, and better information about energy usage.
  • Due to improved data consistency and reduced data latency, people make better decisions that originate from metering data.
  • An integrated meter data management solution can improve customer service by reducing billing errors, improving the quality of customer information, and responding more quickly to customer requests.

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