Many utility professionals will say that integrating advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) and outage management systems (OMS) is simple, as it only affects what happens in the back office. As soon as you have messages and acknowledgements integrated with your OMS, everything should work like a charm. But, in reality, this seemingly simple integration of two systems can expose unexpected process issues.

AMI allows utilities to have more information and achieve greater precision on outage and restoration locations. At the same time, however, technology is only one component of identifying and fixing outages.

Electric utilities need to develop processes that are supported by competent and effective procedures. Relevant stakeholders from the organization, including staff, contractors and customers, need to be aware of these policies. In turn, they must educate their team members.

Successful integration of AMI and outage management includes people, process and technology. It takes hard work, but the benefits are worth it. Here are a few typical scenarios in which technology integration yields some new institutional situations.

Storm-Related Outages

Let's start with storms. Regardless of your budget limitations, you have to deal with these sometimes unexpected gifts from Mother Nature. Let's say your utility has 50,000 customers without power. In addition to your own staff, you've recruited “foreign” crews from other utilities to help with power restoration. The goal is to get as many customers restored as soon as you can.

Once the work is complete, the crews call dispatch with the news. The dispatcher asks the crew members if they have pinged each meter to verify the complete restoration. If dispatch is on the phone with a member of a foreign crew, that person may have no idea what the dispatcher is talking about unless you have procedures in place to direct these crew members.

Now, let's assume your utility is able to handle the storm outages without outside crews. Once your utility identifies the outage locations, you can group AMI single customer outages and then dispatch crews to the areas with the highest customer count. The crews can then find the problem and restore power to 200 of the 50,000 customers.

Beyond Storms

Electric utilities also have to contend with outages that are not related to storms. Scenario two involves notification from your AMI system at 2 a.m. about a single customer outage. The customer, most likely sound asleep, has not called to report the outage. Do you call the customer in the middle of the night to verify the outage? Do you dispatch a crew or wait until morning? Follow your utility's policies and procedures for non-storm events.

Mixed Signals

Scenario three begins with a beautiful sunny day. Your utility's AMI system is working its magic, providing that last-gasp message to the OMS. All of a sudden, the AMI system notifies you of several outage events in a small area on a single circuit. Since the AMI system is operating properly, you dispatch an outage crew to the affected area. The crew members then need to leave their job site to drive to the outage location.

When the outage crew members arrive, they learn they are responding to an operating crew's scheduled outage. Clearly, the AMI system is working, but there has been a communication breakdown among utility employees.

Isolated Outage

In the fourth scenario, it's the same sunny day, and the AMI system notifies you of a single customer outage. After waiting an appropriate length of time to ensure it is not a glitch, you attempt to contact the customer by phone, only to reach voice mail.

In accordance with company procedures, you send a field investigator to the site. This investigator discovers an electrician working on a customer upgrade. The electrician produces a building permit and explains he has been working in this area for years and has never been questioned. The investigator explains that the building is now equipped with a smart meter. As such, the AMI system notified the utility of an outage when the meter was removed from its socket. Since the electrician was not familiar with smart meters or AMI, he had no idea that the utility was notified of an outage.

These four scenarios illustrate the importance of developing and enforcing procedures for AMI and OMS systems. Utilimetrics provides education and information on utility automation. To learn more, visit www.utilimetrics.org.


Bob Sitkauskas (sitkauskasr@dteenergy.com) is chairman of the board of Utilimetrics, a trade association of utilities, consultants, vendors and other professionals engaged in or considering utility automation.