Advanced Metering Technology Brings
Promise of New Functionality to Cooperative
When we think quality can’t still be found in the most mundane fixtures of the world, we should stop to consider the lowly electric meter that has risen from its indenture as a rather dull, plodding electric register to one of the linchpins in a more automated, reliable, efficient and situationally aware United distribution system— ultimately opening a wealth of new service options, service value and cost savings to cooperative members.
Believe it or not, meters have been diamonds in the rough for a good while, and they just keep getting better and more indispensable in modern electric grids because of their increasing versatility.
Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) has come of age, and after two years of successful field testing throughout portions of United’s service territory, the latest, most-advanced iteration of metering technology is about to make its way into systemwide service at United over the next several years.
Beyond a brief service outage that is necessary to change out the meters and a slightly longer meter profile, United members would likely never notice a difference between the older second generation power line carrier (PLC) meter berthed outside their homes now and a new cutting-edge wireless meter that will be phased into service beginning this month with an initial 24,000-meter deployment in the cooperative’s easternmost service area. Similar deployments will follow every year until full implementation has been achieved.
In a side-by-side comparison between old and new, they are both digital processors that record kWh usage and they can both communicate their working status and their readings by receiving and sending information remotely. Because they operate as both microprocessors and as transceivers, they have the horsepower to increase efficiencies for the cooperative and its members through their data throughput and analytics capabilities. They help the cooperative keep its costs down by reducing truck rolls. They both help improve service reliability, power quality and electric safety, billing accuracy and a host of other functions that earlier, gear-driven mechanical or analog meters never could.
And all day, every day and through every conceivable weather extreme, these multitaskers are immune to nearly every imaginable peril beyond time itself—where change ultimately leads to obsolescence as tech companies strive to stay relevant and current with state-of-the-art trends and advancements.
Such was the case when United was informed in 2018 by the PLC metering manufacturer that replacement part availability for the maturing metering class would cease by the close of 2019, and support for the product would end soon thereafter.
Nevertheless, beyond the fact that the current PLC metering system was placed into service in 2006 and was still considered viable, deployment of the latest wireless Landis + Gyr advanced metering architecture in the coming years will arm the cooperative and its members with a vast new range of service options and enhancements, as well as provide the means for integrating United’s system operations with contemporary grid developments as they occur.
Buoyed by wireless technology that has been widely adopted and successfully implemented by many distribution utilities to millions of homes and businesses across Texas and nationally in response to emerging smart grid technologies and industry transitions, United’s new meter fleet will eventually comprise a wireless AMI mesh network that can provide seamless and nearly uninterruptable communication and data exchange.
Because the newly networked meters, routers and collectors will be interconnected and will communicate through and to each other, they will form a wireless framework that makes “self-adaptive routing” possible, or in simpler terms, the architecture necessary to ensure that signals sent from one transceiver to another will find an optimal route back to the cooperative’s head-end system or central command center, and that such seek-and-find processes run in perpetuity until signal transmissions are completed. In effect, data or communication delivery will virtually never be lost due to a failure somewhere else within the network’s communication chain due to the meshed network design. When coupled with United’s fiber-optic backbone, the construction of which officially began in January, the network dynamics are amplified through added speed, redundancy and resiliency that it provides.
Today’s new wireless metering automation now allows the cooperative to fulfill many additional tasks remotely, including service connects or disconnects, outage detection/restoration status, metering software reconfigurations and updates, meter diagnostics, etc., all of which represent cost savings that benefit members.
Like so many other functionalities associated with United’s coming new metering technology, the wireless mesh network will be far superior in identifying, isolating and determining the scope of outages, which will help system operators dispatch service personnel more precisely to an outage’s origin—making the cooperative’s response time and power restoration efforts faster. While the cooperative always encourages members to report outages, it is likely that system operators will receive an alert to any single meter outage, as well as to all other meters affected by the same outage, before members can pick up the phone. The new meters will immediately pinpoint outage locations, then alert United’s outage management system during a power loss.
Improved Power Quality
With the additional meter data and analytics functions that the new meters and supporting applications provide, United will have enhanced capabilities for monitoring and improving power quality across its distribution system, which can help identify the occurrence of blinks and voltage issues.
As with the existing AMI system, modern AMI helps United generate consistent and accurate bills automatically, with more member convenience, regardless of weather conditions or property access limitations. And because meter data intervals for the new metering system are received in 15-minute intervals rather than once daily as was previously the case with earlier meters, United can continue to proactively identify and notify members about unusual usage patterns in advance of billing, and also provide members more detailed supplemental usage and service quality information that could be helpful in diagnosing a reason for sudden variances in energy usage during a United free home energy audit, or as an additional aid to members in managing their overall energy consumption.
Modern metering analytics have the capacity to detect and alert system operators about the potential for transformer and meter overloads, as well as real time alerts for meter tampering and theft.
“When you consider how much faster this new wireless mesh network communicates, its increased automation capability as well as its enormous capacity for data and analytic detail, it’s easy to envision this leading edge technology will be a game changer going forward,” said Senior Vice President of Planning and Procurement Jared Wennermark. “It brings state-of-the art functionality to the cooperative and to United members as modernized grid technologies continue to emerge.”