Business Transformations and New Generation Applications in Smart metering Era

Biju Nair | Dec 23, 2010


We have been hearing a lot of definitions on SmartGrid and how the utility companies are building up on this vision, creating road maps, getting stimulus funds and running pilots. The Energy Policy Act 2005 and Energy Independence Security act 2007 has in fact given a tremendous push for the utilities in US for implementing Smart grids. There has been a lot of funding from the federal government in the name of smart grid and utilities are trying their level best to grab this funding opportunity and enhance their business operations. The broad objectives of the policy in implementing smart grid are to reduce the environmental impact, improve operational efficiency, improve power reliability, and improve asset life and customer empowerment. For the utilities to achieve these objectives have to definitely go through a process of business transformation. So however we define smart grid for real implementer's SmartGrid is nothing but a process of Business Transformations. The convergence of Information technology with Operational technology (IT and Business) is necessitated by this business transformation. In this article the focus is on the distribution side with respect to smart metering and associated business process. This article touches the aspects on usage of meter data and the need to embrace a new set of advanced applications for achieving the objectives of a utility in their Smart grid vision, the scope does not cover management of data which is exponentially increasing.

AMI Smart Metering -- Going Beyond the Meter to Cash Process

The first step towards realizing a smart grid which is followed by most utilities is the implementation of AMI (Advance Metering Infrastructure). This is followed by the implementation MDM (meter data management) software and implementing the key utility business process for meter to cash. There has always been a confusion around which comes first -- AMI or MDM and many utilities have different ways of going about it. If we really study the different products in market and evaluate their capabilities, one can find that these products can assist the utility in the transformation process of moving from a conventional meter to a smart energy meter, upgrading firmware, move in move out etc. so if we have to really make the best use of the product one can go in buying the MDM first and configure it in the best way to bring about the phasing out of conventional meters and bringing in new smart meters to a customer premise. The process also involves integration with other IT systems like CIS or AMS and we have MDM products which support open standards like IEC -- CIM or Multi Speak and make these integrations easier. Another important aspect which needs to be considered here is the AMI infrastructure, there have been cases in utilities where by the time utility started the next phase of AMI roll out, the technology used in preceding phase got obsolete and this is bound to happen as communication technologies are fast advancing. Now at this point the MDM product cannot be changed and utility must remember that they will have this MDM running for the entire life cycle even if AMI technology changes. So the utility if they understand the products in market, have a clear road map of what they need to do with their data in the smart grid journey will definitely need to have a deep dive and do a lot of brainstorming before they arrive on the product to choose for the meter data management. May be here the late starters can make better choices and have lesser change management issues if they carefully study the implementation strategies of other utility. Meter data management will no longer be just the meter to cash process reference but it will be their bible for the smart grid journey.

Other Advanced Applications and Business Processes

Meter data management software in future is going to serve many different requests from diverse applications. With smart metering, we have access to interval data (15 min or 30 min or 1 hr etc.), register data, meter events-outage, tamper, under voltage etc. Many new applications can be developed and integrations with other IT/OT systems can be considered for making the best use of this data. Smart metering together with distribution automation applications are really the nerve centers in realizing the objectives of smart grid.

Advanced Outage Management System -- Integrations with MDM, GIS, OMS, WMS and Mobile Workforce

An advanced Outage management System can be designed which can integrate meter data (either form Head end Systems or MDM) and pass the outage information instantly to the OMS system. Also the work management system, along with effective scheduling and routing algorithms and mobile work force applications can put together an integrated advanced business process automation which will help utilities in fast detection and restoration of outages which improves their reliability indices .The integration with GIS will certainly give an edge for this kind of business automation and the utilities can have a visual feel of the outage map and help them with contingency management. There are many OMS products with inbuilt GIS features, but there are Open GIS products in the market too and the OMS data can be seamlessly integrated with GIS systems. Small utilities like Munis/Coops can even think of custom built OMS systems if they have their own MDM/WMS/GIS in place. Instead of going for the off the shelf products in OMS they can build a small applications tailor made for their size (less than 0.5 Million customers) and business requirements and this approach can be very cost effective.

When we talk about integrations, we cannot avoid talking about ESB and messaging standards. Many utilities have already embraced EAI suites as platforms for their future integration. EAI together with messaging standards like IEC 61968(CIM), and Multispeak can help utility with better work flow configurations and business process automation to achieve better operational efficiency, improved reliability and enhanced customer satisfaction which are some of the drivers of Smart grid.

Demand Side Management

One of the first business process transformation after the deployment of smart meters is the change in tariff structures and Utilities embracing TOU (Time of Uses) billing or CPP (Critical peak pricing). Of course such a process takes form only after regulatory proceeding and educating the customers in detail about the programs and roll out phases. There are reports that TOU has helped a utility to cut down the on peak demands by 3% where as the off peak demand has gone up by 4%. Meter data management products can definitely help in utilities to define very good demand response programs. By carefully studying the load usage, utilities can design specific programs for different divisions within a distribution area. For large utilities, a program designed for one division may not yield the same results with another division as the usage pattern may be differing. So careful in depth analysis of meter data is required for designing the right programs for demand response. Utilities are also doing pilots using advanced features of demand side management include energy management using HAN devices where in MDM can sent load control messages to specific HAN devices in a premise. Energy management applications need to be integrated with MDM so that the applications can deliver better results. Customer participation in such programs is critical to the success for HAN related energy management.

Power Quality Monitoring Using Meter Data

Another important application which can improve the operational performance and bring in enhanced customer reliability is the Power Quality Monitoring. All the new smart meters are capable of sending voltage readings as well as voltage events; these readings/events together with DMS applications like Volt/Var optimization can improve the voltage profile of the entire service line. Disturbances are measured by triggering on an abnormality in the voltage or the current. Transient voltages may be detected when the peak magnitude exceeds a specified threshold. RMS voltage variations (e.g. sags or interruptions) may be detected when the RMS variation exceeds a specified level. By developing applications which can integrate with MDM, SCADA (Substation level), DMS and OMS Power quality problems can be studied and suitable remedial measures can be taken so that the customer is least affected by these disturbances and gets quality power at their service point.

Settlement and NSLS (Net System Load Shape)

The MDM can be effectively used for settlement purposes. The available products in MDM support aggregation and advanced formulae which along with other external interfaces can help in settlement and calculating the Net system load shape. These calculations can be done with better accuracies with MDM interval data and VEE (Validation, Estimation and Editing) engines in place. The utilities can think of even integrating feeder data from substations for the calculation of the receiving energy and the settlement and Net System load shapes can be arrived at using the MDM data which will act as the repository for consumed energy.

Phase Balancing Using Meter Data

Expanding customer base needs to be carefully planned and engineered before the service points are finalized. The existing load pattern studies from MDM can definitely help the planners in making engineering decisions. Also MDM can be used for validating phase connections for the existing service points. As AMI systems are deployed, this type of validation can correct the circuit diagrams and power flow models to ensure they are accurate for engineering studies and real-time operational studies. Hence the phase identification is a challenge, and advanced applications can be developed making use of planning data, engineering data and meter data and events to meet this challenge.

Web Presentment and Advanced User Data Analytics

Customer empowerment is another driver in the smart grid journey and smart meters provide the foundation for this. Some Utilities are already doing a transformation and making use of the smart meters to empower the customer. Portals are being revamped to help customers take advantage of the smart meters. Now customers have range of options to analyze the energy usage. They can do comparative studies, they can get forecasted results etc. and the whole process helps them plan their energy usage which will drive their bills down and help the utility with peak savings. Portals have a wealth of information and even suggest the best rate plan suited for a customer based on inputs given by them. Customers can get on demand reads, participate in demand response programs and on the whole become a part of the smart grid by using the portals effectively. A well designed portal solution will enable maximum value realization from the self service. Customer gets the best set of tools in portal to drive changes in his energy usage and contribute toward energy savings. It is certain that the web page hits for the utility customer portal are definitely going to increase in this journey. Some of the utilities have already tied up with software companies like Google/Microsoft to make available their tools for viewing the home energy consumption from anywhere online.

As utilities deploy smart meters, in the coming years we can very well see the emergence of new generation of applications, a need for more integration between applications, defining new work flows and thereby new business transformations to achieve improved operational performance, reliability and customer satisfaction.

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Thank you so much for the great article Biju. I started working on a new initiative and this article is really insightful...looking forward to see more from you...I wish this site had RSS/Atom feed.

"Energy management applications need to be integrated with MDM so that the applications can deliver better results." -- That's clearly a poor second choice to actually exposing customers to real-time wholesale prices. Of course, such a system, though no more complex, is outside the paradigm of traditional integrated utilities.

Thank you Len,I agree that energy mangement would be a second choice but what will a customer do seeing a real time whole sale price?This has to be translated to some kind of action and Energy mangement applications fit in that space. CISCO has already come up with Home Energy Controller and Utilities like Duke have already planned to deploy these devices.These devices host energy management applications and then communicate with HAN devices to do the required actions.MDM which is meter data repository can be integrated with these controllers,and advanced energy management applications can be used for better results.

Meter data has been used in Utilities for detecting theft since long, Infact there are already tools available for MDM. SAP has company associated with it that is providing the various applications on such data.
As regards Demandside management how do you think the various policies of utility are framed?.Most utilities have study cell which work on this data and Utility designs its policis precisely on this data.Then the tariffs- how do you think these are fixed?
Meter data is extensively used to desgn tariiffs as you have to create varios categories.This article has nothing new in it. It shows that the author has not really been familiar with working of utilities.
As regards the time of the day tariff is concerned again it is not new except that it always required some special meters. Now all this has been transferred to the software in the utility computer.Teaching the consumer about is not a great problem once you intimate them that prices will be high from such to such time.In fact the power trading already uses it .. The problem in doing all this is the condition of the grid itself which in most part are old and over utilized.There is nothing smart about their physical condition.Also where is distribution automation at grid level?Whether in India or US it is not the computer which is going to construct the grid but Power system Engineers. So all this talk of smart grid / venture funds etc is really only a theortical excercise and can work for only some very small enterprises and not for large enterprises because first you need to build the Grids themselves. Go round Banglore or Karnatka and see for your self the condition of lines and their capacities. No body in right sense of mind will talk about smart grid. I believe the condition in US is no better. Or for that matter anywhere else in the World. There may be transmission lines since they are being newly built but otherwise it requires massive rebuilding.