Utilities Installing Advanced Metering Infrastructure Can Improve Efficiency through meter data management (MDM). If deployed correctly, MDM can play a crucial role in advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) rollouts, billing and change management.

For maximum benefits, MDM must include the ability to validate, estimate and edit (VEE) AMI data so that clean and complete data can be delivered to utility systems. In the context of AMI interval data, VEE verifies the accuracy and completeness of the meter data and then fills in the gaps. Because employees get better information sooner, they can work more efficiently, make fewer mistakes and make better-informed decisions. As an added benefit, their customers can view information online the same day it is received.

CASE OF THE MISSING DATA

MDM takes advantage of the “smart” functions of AMI meters to transform VEE as we know it. The legacy vision of VEE is to find issues with the meter: exceptions like sumcheck or missing data. The same meter (or actually, its CPU) is using interval data in the register, so you no longer need sumcheck. The meters are sophisticated enough to notify a user of a problem such as a spike. And there is less missing data; oftentimes, AMI systems just delay data and send it in later. While there may be less estimation, there is more need to rapidly and accurately process reads. A real-time MDM validates meter reads more instantaneously.

With constantly streaming interval data come new demands for estimation. In deregulated markets like Australia, the market and retailers expect complete reads every day, with the intent to settle up later with better data. Also, meters fail. Our experience shows that they will fail at a rate of about 0.5%. When this happens, the system must estimate that missing data. Or, when meters are removed, field crews or systems do not always collect the data up to the moment of change-out, so the system must estimate. Even then, the system must rationalize the value of the interval read during the time it takes to change out the meter. Finally, utilities always face the possibility of bad meters or bad data.

IMPROVING ACCURACY

Since companies may have to deal with manufacturing defects, installation problems or other issues, they must make sure their MDM does whatever validations it can to ensure the data is accurate.

The most basic question that arises related to AMI and MDM is how to ensure accurate billing from interval data. The trickiest piece is the problem of retroactively adjusting for changes, such as rate changes or meter changes. Utilities often experience a time lag from the event to the provision of data to the billing system. Properly adjusting for the time lag is a role that a robust MDM can perform.

PUTTING MDM INTO PRACTICE

New applications made possible with AMI meters require support from MDM:

  • Connect/disconnect. An AMI metering system could be directly connected to the customer information system or work management system to facilitate automated connect/disconnect. However, there still must be a system — an MDM — to handle the logic associated with this, as well as deal with exceptions or cases where the message does not go through.

  • Home area networks (HAN). Standards groups are setting requirements for provisioning and authentication of HAN devices, as well as handling the registration issues when customers add devices. A capable MDM system can apply the needed logic to manage that information and synchronize it with the utility's business systems.

  • Remote programming. With AMI, firmware can be remotely upgraded in the meter, in the HAN and in the communication device. This will result in a significantly more nimble grid, but only if the MDM can track and integrate all the upgrades with the software, hardware and communications protocols in the rest of the AMI system.

If the AMI system is distributing data directly to multiple utility systems, there is no good place for auditing and control over the whole process. However, the MDM as the central data repository and data controller makes it the natural place for monitoring and auditing controls to reside.

The best way to maximize value from an AMI system is to make sure that the MDM is the system of record, with real-time, robust VEE in the scope of the MDM's role.


John Wambaugh is a recognized expert in the integration of MDM and AMI with utility information systems and the operation of AMI systems. He serves on the board of Utilimetrics (formerly AMRA) and is chief solutions architect of eMeter Corp., where he is responsible for implementing EnergyIP MDM solutions with eMeter clients. Previously, Wambaugh was chief technology officer at Cellnet, which included overseeing the installation of Cellnet networks and central operations control centers. johnw@emeter.com