The Three Pillars for an Efficient AMI Operation

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1 The Three Pillars for an Efficient AMI Operation by Antonio Tortolero Gordillo Executive summary Implementing automated metering infrastructure (AMI) is a complex undertaking involving multiple technologies. Utilities are best served by working with a single service provider to coordinate the entire system holistically. This paper discusses what to look for when selecting such a provider. Specifically, the provider must deliver the three pillars of efficient AMI operation: focus on the utility s goals, expertise in operation routines that achieve those goals, and skilled IT professionals and powerful software tools to integrate the data collected by the AMI system AR1

2 Introduction Successful implementation of an advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) comprises much more than installing smart meters. AMI may be defined as an integrated system of smart meters, communications networks, and data management systems that enables two-way communication between utilities and customers. 1 So, AMI is not a single technology but rather the integration of several technologies that command and receive data from smart meters. AMI provides utilities with real-time data about power consumption that helps improve energy efficiency and realize other operational benefits that will reduce costs and improve customer service. Yet the technical expertise, resources, and time needed to deploy, monitor and manage an AMI system are complex and demanding. Because AMI incorporates many different technologies and is integral to several Smart Grid initiatives, most utilities find it more efficient and effective to work with a single experienced managed services provider who coordinates all processes involved in the AMI rollout, integration, operation, and evolution as opposed to working with a meter provider and communications provider and a data collection system provider, etc. When evaluating such a managed services provider, the utility should look for one that can deliver the three pillars of a successful and optimized AMI operation: 1. Definition: comprehensive understanding of and focus on the utility s goals and objectives when developing the AMI system 2. Development. deep knowledge of operational processes, and the commitment to creating processes that best meet the utility s needs 3. Integration: IT capabilities (powerful tools and skilled professionals) to integrate the information collected by the AMI system Criteria for determining whether a service provider can deliver these three pillars and implement a successful AMI system revolve around three essential elements: appropriately trained and skilled people well-defined operation routines for everyday processes and procedures for nonroutine problem management software tools that help the people execute the operation routines The utility that works with an experienced managed services provider that offers these vital elements reduces its financial risk by transferring costs and responsibilities to the services provider. It also gains enhanced system flexibility and optimization, made possible by the IT expertise of the services provider. 1 U.S. Department of Energy Schneider Electric White Paper Revision 1 Page 2

3 This paper discusses various actions that typically occur during AMI implementation, objectives to consider during the definition and development, and the three essential elements (people, operation routines, software tools) a service provider must possess to deploy an effective AMI system. Actions in AMI implementation Any AMI project consists of two well-differentiated phases: rollout and operation. Rollout refers to the actions involved in replacing all the meters included in the initial scope of the project. Replacement might involve the complete population of meters typically a one-time initiative for a utility or only some meters, in a proof of concept or pilot project. The rollout phase also includes deploying the communication infrastructure to reach the meters, such as concentrators, modems, antennas, and other communication system components. Operation refers to actions carried out on the infrastructure after the rollout, that is, after the scheduled replacement, initial configuration of devices, and initial setup of the central system. The operation phase of an AMI implementation might include: New installation, replacement, or dismantling of devices. Due to the natural growth of the distribution network, new customers will have to be supplied. Other devices are definitively removed from the network. Some devices are replaced due to faults. Configuration of any part of the system, from meters to applications. In addition to configuring new elements of the system, any part of the existing infrastructure can be reconfigured after initial setup. New configuration might involve meters for time of use, event threshold, external relay behavior, multi-utility, management of home area network devices, or other parameters. Management of the WAN is needed for SIM and IP address configuration, traffic monitoring, and security issues. New applications are integrated, or older applications are retrofitted. Customer reconnect/disconnect. This feature, one of the most advantageous of any AMI system, allows the utility to disconnect/reconnect customers remotely when there are changes in the their situation: moving, delinquent payments, load control, etc. System upgrades. The infrastructure deployed should be useful for decades; therefore, expect upgrades to servers, operating systems, communication infrastructure, applications, monitoring and reporting tools, and other system components. Adding features. While the AMI implementation is probably motivated by specific reasons at the time of deployment, it is also likely that additional features will be needed over the years. Additional features could involve modification of meter firmware, the central system s applications, or integration interfaces. Handling site incidents. Reading services, analysis of non-quality values, and interruption of remote actions due to temporary conditions or human factors provide the operator some insight into the cause of an incident. Most often resolving the incident involves replacing the field device involved. Incident management conducted through automatically issued procedures helps avoid errors and inefficiencies. Figure 1 With AMI implementation based on MSAs, the rollout phase and the operation phase will coexist during a period of time. Schneider Electric White Paper Revision 1 Page 3

4 Ideally, the operation phase starts right after the first device is installed in the field. However, with an installation strategy based on milestone areas (MSAs), operation will start after the first MSA is accepted by the utility (Figure 1), so rollout and operation are underway simultaneously. AMI objectives to consider With so many AMI solutions available today, utilities might find it difficult to know which one to choose with confidence. They should look for a solution that is scalable, flexible, robust, and adaptable to its future needs. A vendor-neutral platform offers greater flexibility and scalability as the AMI grows, and allows the utility to manage both new rollouts and existing infrastructure within the same system. Specific benefits that utilities should bear in mind when discussing the definition and development of an optimized AMI system with their service provider: Make the most of the existing infrastructure. Utilities want to derive the most efficiency possible with their existing AMI. Streamlining the addition of supplementary systems helps extend the life of the system and lower the total cost of the ownership. Systems that might interface with AMI The following systems might be integrated with the AMI as it evolves during operation: Distribution management system (DMS) receives the meter values, likely aggregated by consumer profiles, as well as power quality events. Meter Data Management (MDM) receives the meter values for billing purposes. Outage management system (OMS) receives the power outage information from every meter, as well as other alarms generated by the AMI system These systems are in addition to those integrated and used for the rollout phase and during operation, such as a customer information system (CIS), work order management system (WOMS), and asset management/gis. Ensure compliance with regulations. Some countries require utilities to report meter readings within a certain period of time and/or information about the duration of power outages affecting each customer. Reduce labour costs. An optimized AMI system increases the number of reachable devices and reduces field visits. Improve capacity planning for low-voltage deployment. Greater visibility of the status of the network allows more accurate network growth planning and asset protection. Improve outage detection. An optimized AMI system delivers the accurate information necessary to detect power outages by detecting non-communicating devices, using the last gasp message method or any other similar feature of the AMI system and reduce the Customer Minutes Lost index. Detect energy theft. Energy thefts are detected by knowing the energy balance. An optimized AMI system delivers the correct information that makes this parameter reliable. Improve functionalities and services. A flexible system accommodates new developments throughout the lifetime of the metering infrastructure: New applications added to the utility s systems that require integration with the AMI system (see sidebar) Synergy with feeder automation, including low-voltage monitoring and control Customer engagement in demand response programs, through control of devices at home via the metering infrastructure. 3 essential elements for AMI success Nearly every utility will realize a more effective implementation of an AMI system when working with an experienced services provider that can deliver the essential people who have been well trained, well-delineated operation routines, and powerful software tools that integrate AMI data into everyday operations. The interplay among these three elements may differ from one utility to another. What s important is that they are holistically intertwined. For example, people use the software tools Schneider Electric White Paper Revision 1 Page 4

5 to perform the operation based on routines. The operation routines are defined by people to fit the business processes of the utility. As such, they provoke a customization of the software tool, including reports and user interface. Or, we can look at the relationships another way: people define the operation routines to fit the business processes of the utility, and customization of the software tool follows, allowing people to use the tool for the daily operation described in the routines. Both approaches to this cause-and-effect cycle are valid. The relationship depends on the maturity of the utility s processes for managing the metering data and infrastructure. In either case, the purpose of the software tools is to automate processes as much as possible, avoid human errors, provide the information necessary to monitor KPIs, and reduce operational costs. Whichever relationship applies, there is always one constant: the need for knowledge of the metering operation processes, the adaptability to the customer needs, and the IT capability to customize the software applications. Figure 2 The 3 crucial elements of people, operation routines, and software are holistically inter-related. People The people involved in an optimized AMI operation include: First-line support, who monitor the main Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) of the system, such as exported meter values and non-reachable devices, on a daily basis Second-line support, who perform periodic maintenance tasks such as application upgrades, security revisions, and backups at the data center. These personnel also monitor and control the system when their specific skills are required. Development team, which improves the application according to the utility s roadmap or new requirements Operation manager, who coordinates definition of operation routines and their adaptation to the utility s business processes Operation routines The AMI operation routines include the procedures, checklists, and diagrams describing the daily work performed by the operators directly monitoring the health of the system. These routines also define periodic maintenance tasks and first- and second-line system support. These routines serve to reduce operational and maintenance costs while preserving performance quality. Compliance with operation routines also supports other specific utility Schneider Electric White Paper Revision 1 Page 5

6 processes such as planned network rebuilding; customer communication; identifying causes for meter unavailability; disconnection and reconnection; and characterizing incidents. Software tools AMI infrastructure software tools must be configured as much as possible for the people who use them. First-line operation support personnel need a tool that provides powerful filtering and reporting capabilities, to facilitate identifying problems. Figure 3 Operational personnel can monitor meter readings on an hour-by-hour basis. When a problem is identified, these support personnel need to be able to issue work orders accurately, trace them efficiently, and receive field reports. Specifically developed software tools for this activity minimize human involvement and associated errors and delays in the transmission of information and definition of workflows. A ticketing system also helps the first-line support personnel handle incidents. Figure 4 When a problem is identified, trouble tickets can be entered and their status checked. With appropriate software tools, second-line support personnel can monitor the internal workflows and integration interfaces and investigate and resolve more complex problems. Figure 5 More complicated problems may be escalated, and persistent issues can be investigated. Schneider Electric White Paper Revision 1 Page 6

7 Conclusion Implementing an effective AMI system involves more than just installing smart meters. An AMI system also includes communications, data collection, and workflow management capabilities. As these capabilities are all integrally inter-related to one another, utilities can more efficiently and successfully implement AMI by selecting a single service provider to manage the entire rollout, integration, operation, and evolution of the system. When evaluating service providers, a utility should look for one that can deliver the three pillars that are key to an efficient and successful AMI operation: Deep knowledge of the operation processes Strong focus on the utility s goals Skilled IT professionals and powerful tools A qualified services provider helps the utility establish these pillars for successful AMI operation through reliable meter reading services that monitor functionality; corrective service that minimizes interruptions; efficient meter replacement; analysis and follow-up of nonquality values; and optimization of the system (which may involve development at several levels) made possible by the IT expertise. The utility gains a more successful AMI implementation, reduces its financial risk by transferring costs and responsibilities to the services provider, and controls the cost of operation. Three specific attributes indicate a service provider capable of delivering the three pillars: appropriately trained and skilled people well-defined operation routines for everyday processes and procedures for nonroutine problem management software tools that help the people execute the operation routines About the author With more than 15 years' experience developing electrical and metering hardware systems and developing the Schneider Electric smart metering software platform, Antonio Tortolero Gordillo is currently the AMI (Advanced Metering Infrastructure) Solution Architect in charge of defining solutions for the metering environment. He has a communications engineering degree from the Universidad de Sevilla Schneider Electric. All rights reserved. Schneider Electric White Paper Revision 1 Page 7

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