Are All Meter Data Management Systems Created Equal?

Sharelynn Moore | Oct 13, 2008

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Thirty-five billion readings annually -- that's the potential result of collecting 15-minute interval data from a million advanced meters. Now imagine purchasing a residential energy meter that generates this type of interval data, one its vendor has labeled "advanced metering", but offers no means to realize the full value of the data it generates.

The industry move toward smart metering has firmly established meter data management (MDM) as a critical component to advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), especially when implemented prior to a large-scale residential AMI rollout. An MDM system eases IT integration of AMI, and facilitates the distribution of the meter data across the utility enterprise by framing the volumes of interval data retrieved from the field into manageable and familiar information. Additionally, by consolidating reading data from multiple collection systems into one MDM system, utilities can set consistent validation routines to truly evaluate the performance of their AMI systems.

Most MDM systems today claim to integrate multiple collection systems, calculate billing determinates and do some level of validation, estimation and editing of meter data. But when utility business and IT departments embark on the purchase and implementation of an MDM solution, it's critical to understand the key features and true system capabilities which distinguish each, and to understand whether those features can perform at AMI scale. An MDM solution must deliver the results utilities need today and tomorrow:

  • Collection system integration
  • Interval data management
  • Versioned data storage
  • Two-way communications between customer information systems (CIS) and AMI systems
  • Provide a platform to enable other AMI applications and business processes

    Collection System Integration

    Different read rates and multiple AMI network choices and legacy meter reading systems are just a few of the facts of daily utility life that can humble even the best utility CIS. An MDM solution that can effectively broker read requests and responses between the billing system allows the system to request and receive aggregated billing determinants and meter reads in its existing mode of operation, as if a single meter reading system were deployed even though multiple technologies may be in use.

    Effective collection system integration allows merged utilities to adopt new technologies and unify billing processes without having to completely re-engineer existing meter reading processes or extensively modify the chosen billing system or billing processes.

    Interval Data Management

    AMI brings the need to provide what was once considered complex billing for commercial and industrial (C&I) customers to the residential market. Utilities are well accustomed to the fact that some percentage of C&I interval data will be missing, redundant or incorrect. Interval data collected from residential meters provides no exception to this rule. Data validation, estimation and editing (VEE) is a process that identifies problematic data that comes from meter data collection systems before it reaches other utility systems, and provides tools for addressing quality issues according to a utility's specific best practice rules and meter-specific parameters.

    Each utility and each energy consumer is unique. Having the flexibility to handle data anomalies such as gaps, overlaps and redundancies, as well as tolerance issues between consumption reads and interval data, with a reliable, auditable process is a critical MDM feature.

    VEE capabilities are critical to ensuring a utility's business and regulatory process needs are met with a successful MDM deployment. MDM vendors can vary widely on their VEE capabilities. The following are some of the fundamental validation and estimation functions that the MDM system should enable:

    • Estimate interval data based on meter readings
    • Replace all values with a constant
    • Multiply or divide by a constant
    • Add or subtract a constant
    • Slide a range of interval data ahead or back in time
    • Perform linear interpolation
    • Split or combine intervals
    • Restore a previous version

      Additionally, utilities should be able to edit values using a host of standard editing functions:

      • Add or replace values manually
      • Modify read status
      • Display or edit multiple reads
      • Copy or cut/paste a string of values from one meter to another
      • Copy or cut/paste values from a spreadsheet

        With regard to billing, utilities have traditionally relied on external spreadsheets for the complex calculations required to convert interval data into large commercial and industrial energy charges. Time-of-use and critical peak pricing programs, for example, require unit conversions, complex load calculations and aggregations. While the pool of customers that have traditionally been billed in this manner has been comparatively small, many utilities are now looking at interval data, time- and price-sensitive rate structures for residential and small C&I customers to better influence consumption patterns and manage changing energy markets.

        MDM solutions that provide an integrated calculation engine enable utilities to do away with hard-to-maintain spreadsheets and manual, error-prone methods for producing billing determinants.

        A calculation engine simplifies updating and maintaining calculations. Versioning tracks the changes. Standard MDM interfaces make new and edited calculations immediately available for all utility applications. This puts an end to three problems utilities have had for years. It:

        • Replaces manual data import and export processes with automated processes that are secure and auditable.

        • Provides a single calculation for use by all utility systems. No longer does the same load data generate slightly different values depending on which utility spreadsheet is used.

        • Provides scenario planning to run "what if" scenarios for different rate types across different customer classes or other strata.

          Versioned Data Storage

          Understanding what load data was "the best available" at a point in time is a critical MDM capability. MDM load data versioning maintains snapshots of each meter read associated with a time reference, making it much easier to resolve billing and settlement questions and disputes. Versioned data is also critical to maintaining data integrity as that data is shared across multiple utility systems (demand response, load research, forecasting, distribution asset analysis, etc.).

          Two-Way Communications between AMI and CIS

          With two-way communications to the meter, utilities can perform on-request reads to help settle customer bill disputes. With a customer on the phone, customer service representatives can request the most recent meter read for accurate and timely information relative to the disputed bill. Two-way communications allow interval meter data to be requested to fill gaps in information that may not have made it to the collection engine database.

          Two-way communications also open the door for ping commands, load-side voltage checks to determine customer-side breaker issues, and remote connect and disconnect. Additionally, MDM can help initiate these events and broker the request back to CIS or other systems.

          Platform to enable other AMI Applications

          When choosing an MDM system, consideration should be made for other applications that can easily leverage the same software platform without a lot of custom design. Other applications that leverage the MDM database platform should be available either by add-on modules or integrated as part of an enterprise MDM approach. Some common AMI applications include revenue protection and theft analysis, end-customer analysis and presentment, and load curtailment and demand response.

          Conclusion

          Meter data is emerging as the utility's greatest asset. As utilities adopt MDM solutions to manage their ever-increasing meter data, the industry is witnessing the revolutionary impact MDM and AMI can have on operational efficiencies, customer service, energy forecasting, distribution system reliability, regulatory compliance and more. Selecting the right MDM solution is not only important to achieve a reasonable return on these investments, but critical for achieving the transformational changes that can position utilities for success in an ever-changing business landscape. If you're in the market for an MDM solution that can deliver these results, ask vendors if their systems have the key features mentioned here. Make sure the MDM solution you buy has the tools you need to deliver the full value of meter data to your utility.

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          Comments

          This article is very good, it reveals important utility business process needs for billing functions, and also explains the chronic problem in the utility industry - until recently technological change within utilities has progressed at a snail's pace. The author Sharelynn Moore works for a meter the AMI manufacturer Itron, and knows precisely what she is talking about.

          Utilities are not preparing to handle or utilize all of the functions POTENTIALLY available in MDMs, even if their AMI smart meters are equipped to provide the raw data which most state-of-the-art meters are. The only plausible explanation for overlooking them is when a utility company doesn't see a need for certain MDM functionality, they don't bother to ask for it, and typically are unwilling to pay for it even when offered in an MDM.

          This begs the question why don't utilities see a need for more functionality to process meter data and utilize the AMI's two-way communications capabilities with customers available to them.

          Utility companies are not particularly good at future proofing their advanced metering technology choices. It all stems from their inability to fund anything more than the bare minimum functionality they perceive they need. The only way they can pay for extra infrastructure functionality in a heavily regulated business environment is by applying to regulators for unpalatable across-the-board customer rate increases.

          There is a massive lost opportunity unfolding in the transition to advanced metering. The answer to future proofing advanced metering and MDMs would be implementing much more data processing capability locally in the smart meters themselves from the outset in their design and commercialization. Built in to the meters from the start, some processing functions could be activated by software commands through their AMI networks on demand, for specific customers that need them. A direct parallel to this is in the personal computer industry. Computers are routinely sold with built-in standardized hardware and software hooks and sufficient memory capacity to later install or activate software to expand the computer's capabilities. This sad situation will never change until regulators change the business environment our utility companies are permitted to operate under.

          "Some common AMI applications include revenue protection and theft analysis, end-customer analysis and presentment, and load curtailment and demand response." -- exactly. Also, what Bob said above.

          Overall, an excellent overview of basic MDM. My only problem with it is "why should ratepayers be prepared to foot the bill for such a system (MDM + 2way meter communication) when few if any of the potential benefits of it for the customers are exploited?" Where's the discussion of 1) payments for verified demand management 2) payments for emergency demand reduction instead of outages 3) payments for power from distributed micro-CHP. 4) strategies to transfer charges for PHEV / EV charging from the meter of use to the meter of the vehicle owner? 5) customer information systems 6) customer interaction with the system 7) etc. etc. etc. see IMEUC articles this site.

          Independent Market for Every Utility Customer - Preliminary Business Case

          Independent Market for Every Utility Customer - Part 2 - Market Operation

          Independent Market for Every Utility Customer - Part 3 - Alternative Market Operation

          Energy Central Blogs - IMEUC - Independent Market for Every Utility Customer

          I guess I would add that utilities shouldn't do this on the cheap. (We saw what happened when we tried that in Iraq.)

          A meter changeover is going to have considerable expense anyway. This is not the time for bean counters to argue about saving a few pennies for lower capabilities. The application domain space is still unclear. Allow for lots of capability, or at least the ready expansion of that capability.

          I think it's important for real-time pricing to be supported, maybe not by the second, but perhaps updates every 15 minutes.

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