PPL ELECTRIC UTILITIES COMPLETED THE FULL-SCALE DEPLOYMENT OF ITS AUTOMATED METER READING (AMR) SYSTEM IN SEPTEMBER 2004. The utility's goals were to reduce costs and to improve customer satisfaction. And, indeed, it has met those goals. In addition, it continues to find innovative uses for AMR data that is enabling the utility to leverage this information into smart decision making.

PPL Electric Utilities (Allentown, Pennsylvania, U.S.) selected the TWACS® (Two Way Automated Communication System) product by Distribution Control Systems Inc. (DCSI; Hazelwood, Missouri, U.S.). TWACS provides two-way communications with meters using existing power lines. Its outage management system (OMS), along with its AMR, provides the following functionality: outage detection, outage extent mapping, outage restoration monitoring and momentary interruption monitoring.

The TWACS fixed network allows PPL Electric Utilities to perform scheduled and on-request reads by retrieving data directly from a transponder or group of transponders that are integrated in the meter. These transponders collect daily readings, peak demand and hourly consumption for billing purposes. In addition, the transponders also collect voltage, theft and momentary interruption data.

INITIAL USE OF AMR FOR OUTAGE

PPL Electric Utilities' first experience in using the DCSI power-line carrier solution for storm restoration occurred in 2003 during Hurricane Isabel. The storm, which came up the Eastern seaboard and into PPL Electric Utilities' service territory, generated 167,772 calls from the more than 502,516 customers whose service was interrupted. Even though the AMR system was still in the early deployment stage, PPL Electric Utilities was able to leverage the technology to aid in the Hurricane Isabel restoration efforts.

PPL Electric Utilities' IT staff quickly developed an online tool for end users to “ping” a meter, which is to send it an electronic signal to find out if the meter would respond. We used DCSI's test communications test (TCT) command to ping the meters suspected of being out of service. Using the TCT feature in responding to power outages caused by Isabel enabled the utility to reduce restoration labor costs and revenue losses, because it suffered no lost billing reads and did not have to send out any estimated bills. PPL Electric Utilities estimated this effort helped shave more than six hours off the total restoration time simply because the utility was not sending crews to areas where it had already restored service.

LESSONS LEARNED

After Isabel, PPL Electric Utilities' lessons learned indicated that while the TCT command was very effective, the commands transmitted to the endpoints were sent one at a time. As a result, the utility began to explore the use of DCSI's outage assessment system (OASys) product. The OASys system pings meters in groups of up to 64 (via group addressing) with one command. In addition to group addressing, OASys also allows the utility to traverse the network to check devices upstream and downstream from known outages. Thus, PPL Electric Utilities is able to recognize the extent of system problems more quickly and proactively identify service issues to improve its service-restoration monitoring system. The utility continues to avoid unnecessary crew dispatching and can verify power restoration by pinging the meters to determine the meter status.

CURRENT AMR OUTAGE APPLICATION

The AMR system is fully integrated with OMS and graphical information systems. Highly automated, this AMR system runs in real time while requiring little operator intervention. PPL Electric Utilities is finding that the AMR system, which communicates via a power-line carrier, can be used to look at the health of our distribution system daily. For instance, if communication is intermittent, the utility can pinpoint service problems prior to the customer reporting meter base or overhead service drop issues. Often PPL Electric Utilities is able to send crews out during the day to investigate the loss of communication with the meter rather than sending crews out after hours when the customer reports a service problem.

In its 10,000-sq-mile (25,099-sq-km) service territory, PPL Electric Utilities serves many communities. One of the growing areas it serves is the Pocono Mountains resort area, where many of the customers own summer homes that are unoccupied significant portions of the time.

Previously, if power was out to one of these customers, the only way the utility would know about the problem was when the customer arrived and called it in. Now with AMR, PPL Electric Utilities can investigate the failure to communicate to determine if power is out or if there are problems with the meter/module. In some instances, the utility has sent a trouble crew to restore service prior to the customer notification. PPL Electric Utilities believes these investigations prevent inconveniencing customers, thus improving overall customer satisfaction and reducing overtime costs.

REFINED OUTAGE PROCESS

Currently PPL Electric Utilities takes the analysis from its existing OMS and passes it to OASys. OASys then pings the meters on the device that the OMS believes is out of service. OASys then passes the data back, and the individual pings of the meter are displayed for an end user to view. The “job number” generated by the OMS is highlighted for additional follow up when the OASys finds that a meter is on-line. System users then determine if the reported outage is a customer problem or service problem. End users find that the addition of OASys to the outage restoration process has been extremely beneficial in determining the reason for the outage prior to the crew arriving on site.

PPL Electric Utilities verifies power restoration using the restoration check functionality in OASys. In the past, it was common to have crews repair trouble and return to the crew quarters only to find that a customer on the same circuit called to report loss of power because of a problem with another device on that circuit. The restoration check functionality allows the utility to ping meters immediately after the crew reports the repairs are complete to verify that there are no embedded outages.

In the past, the utility had employees call back customers after major storms to verify that their power had been restored. With OASys, this is accomplished automatically, and the utility is able to further reduce restoration costs by reducing the number of people required to verify service restoration.

PPL Electric Utilities also uses the blink-count functionality that the OASys product offers to ping meters to determine if a momentary outage occurred. When the meter registers a 50% or more voltage reduction, or a complete loss of power for more than 10 half cycles, the module within the meter registers a blink count. On a weekly basis, PPL Electric Utilities polls all 1.35 million meters to determine if groups of meters received a blink. The OASys triggers an alarm on meters where the blink-count total for a specific time period reaches an established threshold level. These alarms are then reviewed, and when necessary, the jobs are exported from OASys to Excel and forwarded to PPL Electric Utilities engineers for further evaluation. The engineers review the information to aid in tree-trimming efforts and to identify issues with devices in the field.

When customers report momentary interruptions, engineers use OASys to verify the situation. In addition, they may opt to monitor a specific section of the line on an hourly or daily basis to pinpoint the exact time the interruption occurs. This has been very useful in identifying problems with equipment in the field without having to make a field trip.

Because there is momentary interruption monitoring or blink counters embedded in each meter, PPL Electric Utilities has access to momentary interruption events in near real time as well as access to historical records. The utility can aggregate the blinks of individual meters by geographic areas to determine outage patterns. Often it can find the cause of momentary interruptions and potentially eliminate them before they become permanent outages while eliminating the annoyance of flickering lights for our customers.

RESULTS AND BENEFITS

Through the use of AMR-related tools and technologies, PPL Electric Utilities has reduced field trips, reduced costs associated with overtime (call out of field and office personnel), increased levels of customer satisfaction and improved business processes for our end users. Although a dollar value cannot be placed on all of the benefits listed here, any utility looking to use power line carrier as its AMR solution should be sure to include items such as these in the initial business case.

In the fourth quarter of 2005, 5.9% of jobs PPL Electric Utilities' OMS generated were closed using AMR data rather than dispatching a crew. That being said, the utility cannot definitively state what part of the 5.9% of the jobs would not have been dispatched prior to the use of the AMR data because, in the past, part of the business process was to have dispatchers call the customer if the problem appeared to be with the customer's equipment. The use of the AMR, however, does reduce processing time and gives the dispatcher yet another tool in performing the analysis.

FUTURE USES OF THE AMR APPLICATION

Although PPL Electric Utilities has not explored all of the uses for leveraging the data, it continues to seek out ways in which this data will provide benefits beyond meter reading. The utility is in the process of reviewing circuit breaker trip data from SCADA and comparing it with the blink data in OASys to determine the approximate number of operations. These calculations should aid the utility in future maintenance schedules of field equipment and ultimately improve reliability and safety.

In addition, PPL Electric Utilities plans to install a Meter Data Management System (MDMS) in 2006. This system will be its repository for data collected from the 1.35 million endpoints. The MDMS project will implement various modules such as Validation, Estimation and Edit (VEE); Complex Billing; Revenue Protection; PJM Settlement; Distribution and Load Research; and Customer Self Service. With the deployment of these modules, the utility anticipates multiple changes within its business processes that will aid in meeting its strategic initiatives of reducing costs, improving reliability and increasing customer satisfaction.


Michael Godorov is manager of AMR operations for PPL Electric Utilities. He has a varied experience at PPL, which spans more than 29 years. Godorov has held individual contributor and leadership positions throughout his career in various departments including construction, marketing, distribution, power delivery and customer services. Today, Godorov leads a diverse group of individuals in AMR operations who manage DCSI TWACS, Comverge PowerCAMP and MV-90 systems to secure daily, hourly and interval readings from more than 1.36 million meters. msgodorov@pplweb.com

Michele Pierzga has been with PPL Electric Utilities for 20 years and currently holds a position of internal business consultant. During her time with PPL Electric Utilities, she has gained a broad range of experience in the energy industry including positions in power plants, dispatching, customer support, as well as project management responsibilities on internal IT, Y2K and AMR projects. mapierzga@pplweb.com

Saved Field Trips
AMR Verified/Not Dispatch Total Jobs Jobs Closed Using AMR Data
897 15,185 5.91%
Fourth-quarter 2005 results.