When a severe storm blows into town, technicians often drive out to a remote site to isolate a problem by operating switches. With the advent of smart grid technology, electric utilities are now able to open and close switches from a control center. This capability minimizes outage times for utilities that can streamline operations.

As more electric utilities seek to improve their system's reliability and improve efficiency, they are turning to smart grid technology. Case in point: Glendale Water & Power (GWP) is replacing all 120,000 of its electric and water meters with smart meters from Itron.

The utility, which generates, transmits and distributes electricity to 83,300 residential, commercial and industrial customers, is in the midst of a nine-month project to replace 84,500 electric meters with the latest technology.

To help fund the $70 million citywide project, the utility turned to the federal government. GWP is the first utility in the nation to execute a contract with the Department of Energy for an American Recovery and Reinvestment Act smart grid grant for $20 million.

Benefits of Moving to Smart Metering Technology

GWP, which is owned by the city of Glendale, California, recognizes that customers are concerned about the cost of energy and the environmental impact of using electricity. For that reason, the utility contracted with Utility Partners of America to install 120,000 electric and water meters with advanced technology.

The electric meters will feature secure two-way communications over a city-owned network. This network will consist of a combination of a fiber-optic cable and a Wi-Fi system, which will support other city services, such as a mobile workforce management system.

Because the smart meters allow for two-way communication with the utility, GWP will be able to provide customers with real-time usage data to help them conserve energy. The new technology will allow GWP's customers to measure the impact of their conservation measures almost immediately.

The new smart metering infrastructure and data management system will support home area networks to communicate with home appliances, pool pumps, in-home energy displays, and heating, ventilating and air-conditioning systems. And customers will have Internet-accessible portals to view their electric and water usage.

The company's smart grid will also save money in several ways. In addition to giving the customer real-time information, the new system will help to detect theft of electricity. Every dollar saved through theft prevention and detection goes toward holding down costs.

The new smart grid will make it possible for GWP to offer a variety of rate plans so customers can select the one that best meets their lifestyle, preferences and budget. Some of these plans will be designed to help reduce demand when the cost of electricity is highest and the strain on the system is greatest.

Reducing peak demand saves money in several ways. GWP will no longer have to rely on expensive power plants to handle peaks in demand, and the utility can defer the reinforcement of the system to handle peak demand. This translates to improved reliability at lower cost for the utility and its customers.

As new technology becomes available, the smart grid technology will help GWP prepare for the future. By using the new advanced metering infrastructure/meter data management system, GWP can integrate enhanced and new advanced grid capabilities, and make ongoing improvements in customer service, service reliability and revenue management.

Deploying the Meters

In late April, the utility began the first phase of the project by replacing 1,000 electric and 500 water meters with smart meters. After the first phase is completed and tested, GWP will begin installation of smart meters throughout Glendale. The utility plans to begin its deployment in fall 2010 and wrap up the project by fall 2011.

The utility selected three strategic areas for the initial smart grid deployment. The field professionals first installed the meters near the Civic Center because of the taller buildings and businesses, and then selected another area with single-family homes. Finally, GWP tested the devices in a location with canyons and mountains.

To implement the project, GWP formed a Project Management Office (PMO), which reports to the project sponsor. The PMO is staffed by a project manager and subject matter experts from Kema. GWP also formed seven internal teams led by GWP managers to implement various aspects of the project, including customer service, IT, electronic communications, water meter installation, electric meter installation, home area network and stakeholder management.

As GWP completes its meter deployment, it will create a team for distribution automation, which is a long-term initiative for GWP. As portions of distribution system are replaced, new technology will be introduced to help the utility manage new demands such as solar panels and electric vehicles more effectively. In addition, GWP will be able to incorporate capabilities to make the system as reliable and efficient as possible.

Effect on the Meter Technicians

As GWP shifts to the smart grid technology, it creates both a challenge and an opportunity for the field crews as well as GWP's metering shop. Some meters have been in service for 50 years, and this project allows the electrical test technicians to inspect the safety and integrity of each service.

The GWP meter shop currently installs, maintains and tests electric meters from several different manufacturers. Each manufacturer has its own software for programming in metering parameters. The change to GWP's metering infrastructure will offer many benefits, including the ability to order meters from a single manufacturer. This will reduce necessary storage space and allow for more-efficient inventory control. Also, working with a single manufacturer's software will reduce training time for employees.

The meters will offer advanced functionality and more versatility. They will be capable of being programmed with multiple billing configurations along with the ability to provide additional system information. The new meters with two-way communications will allow for over-the-air configuration changes, firmware updates and increased troubleshooting capabilities. All new meters will be installed with a locking meter ring, providing increased system security, and will feature additional voltage-reliability tools. By interrogating meters and using remote voltage information, technicians will be better able to troubleshoot voltage issues.

Seeking New Skill Sets

As electric utilities like GWP install smart meters, it lessens the need for some field professionals' skills sets, while it creates demand for other types of knowledge. The new technology also will require a higher level of training for linemen, who will learn how to test, maintain and repair the more-sophisticated equipment. GWP plans to provide employees with new skills and capabilities that will keep them on a par with the best utilities in the United States.

Many tasks that are manual, slow and inefficient today will be able to be handled quickly and efficiently from a control center. Some functions will be automatic and others will require operator intervention. The objective is to make the system more reliable at lower cost. The data accumulated by the system will help the utility to plan system improvements in a way that makes the best usage of capital dollars.

Some job positions, such as meter readers, will be eliminated as a result of the smart grid. New and challenging positions, however, will take their place.

All existing employees will be retrained for new positions such as revenue protection, meter technician and maintenance of new electronic systems. GWP also has commissioned a study of expected future personnel needs so that training and development for the new challenges ahead can begin.

By investing in smart grid technology and properly training its workforce, GWP is preparing for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead in the utility industry.

Craig Kuennen, (ckuennen@ci.glendale.ca.us) is the project sponsor for the smart grid project for Glendale Water & Power. He has been with the company since 1999.

Henry Abrari (habrari@ci.glendale.ca.us) is an electric principal engineer with Glendale Water & Power, has been with the company for 24 years and is the back haul team leader for the AMI project.

Peter Milroy (pmilroy@ci.glendale.ca.us) is a senior electrical test technician for Glendale Water & Power, which he joined in 2000.

Companies mentioned in this article:

Glendale Water & Power

Itron www.itron.com

Kema www.kema.com

Utility Partners of America utilitypartnersofamerica.com