Many utilities recognize the value of smart metering and are either planning or implementing their smart meter deployment. Few companies, however, have experience managing operations following implementation. Utilimetrics is preparing utilities to take the next step by sharing resources and helping them look for the best practices going forward.
The Utilimetrics board of directors and membership includes a cross-section of those in all stages of advanced meter deployment. As the utility industry moves into this new arena, Utilimetrics is capturing and documenting those experiences. The association is making sure that the information becomes available to everyone and we have a successful industry going forward.
Southern California Edison (SCE), one of the Utilimetrics member companies, is in the early stages of its process to replace about 5 million existing electric meters with new smart electricity meters throughout its 50,000-sq-mile (129,500-sq-km) territory. As part of its Edison SmartConnect project, the utility began deploying meters in September 2009.
Edison SmartConnect's advanced communications system will enable customers to view near-real-time energy-use information from a computer, cell phone or other device. The system also will alert customers to periods of peak electricity demand by sending messages directly to smart appliances and devices. It will allow customers to program these devices to respond to energy-use preferences based on cost, comfort and convenience.
For example, the smart meter will communicate with a home's programmable communicating thermostat to maintain a certain temperature during specific times of the day. It also will be able to automatically respond to peak electricity demand by adjusting or turning off appliances and devices.
The deployment of smart meters is key to SCE's smart grid strategy. Here is some advice that may help other utilities as they move forward with their deployments.
Look for new skill sets
As the industry shifts from manual meter reading to advanced metering infrastructure, we see the convergence of metering metrology and communications. Utilities must prepare for the future by training and hiring employees who can meet the new demands of their meter and communications system. Just like computers, smart meters now need the latest version of firmware and updates to be delivered remotely. Meters also may need to be updated in the field, which requires knowledge of remote meter configuration, troubleshooting and other skill sets.
Create a cross-functional team
SCE established the Edison SmartConnect Operations Center to address the complexity of the future operations of its metering and communications system. The company has built and trained a team of experts in metering, telecommunications, customer billing, information technology and security. These employees understand the larger challenges involved in operating an intelligent network. The utility also has brought in vendor partners and meter providers to share knowledge and updates.
Utilities will face challenges as they go through a deployment, so it's critical to spend time on preparation. By being prepared, the company can resolve any issues quickly and run an effective and efficient operation. For example, SCE's team members regularly participate in desktop and role play exercises, and they rigorously test their processes, such as firmware download and other scenarios. In addition, they work through troubleshooting and root-cause processes in their labs and meter farms.
Evaluate data properly
Intelligence is a key component of the new meters, so utilities have much more data at their disposal. With more than 5 million intelligent nodes on the network, this presents both challenges and opportunities. Understanding the information and knowing what to do with this data is critical to success. Utilities need to often rewrite or update their standard operating procedures and go through scenario planning and diagnostics to make sure the information they receive is accurate and that it is being interpreted correctly.
Negotiate contracts with care
A standard purchasing agreement is no longer adequate. It pays to take the time and attention to creating agreements that benefit both the utility and the vendor and that pave the way for a successful partnership down the road.
Have quality-control methods in place
When a company deploys millions of meters over a short period of time, it must perform rigorous testing. In addition, a utility must work closely with its partners to ensure supply-chain readiness as part of a continuous improvement process.
By partnering with Utilimetrics and following these keys to success, a utility company can ensure a successful deployment.
Jim Cherrie (firstname.lastname@example.org) is on the board of directors for Utilimetrics. He is also the director of deployment for Southern California Edison, responsible for product management, field deployment and the Edison SmartConnect Operations Center.