Managing the AMI Network

Organizational changes, new tools, and vendor collaboration have helped Oncor to monitor the performance and reliability of its AMI network

By Dana Hangai, IBM

In the past, utilities built operations centers to monitor the performance, reliability, and capacity of the transmission and distribution network in order to ensure high availability of electricity distribution. With the future deployment of smart meters, utilities will also need to add the capability to monitor the smart meter mesh and the communications infrastructure required to transmit data from the meters to the data center.

With over 760,000 smart meters installed by March 2010, Oncor is at the forefront of smart meter deployments in the United States. Because business operations will be dependent on the timely and accurate flow of data across the network, it is critical for Oncor to establish processes to ensure proper network performance.

The ultimate vision for Oncor is to create an Advanced Metering Systems Network Operations Center (AMS NOC), with responsibility for monitoring all components of the Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) network:

  • Meters – smart meters installed at the customer premise
  • Radio Frequency (RF) Mesh communication devices – network devices used to route data and messages from the meters to the data center, and vice versa
  • Backhaul infrastructure – communications technologies, such as fiber and microwave, used to transfer data from the RF Mesh communication devices to the data center

In the initial releases of AMI functionality, instead of implementing a single AMS NOC, Oncor has divided the responsibilities for monitoring the various components among Oncor personnel and vendors. New roles were created for the Oncor positions. Each network component required the development of standard operating procedures for each of the new monitoring tasks. In addition, processes were defined for the hand-offs between different organizations.

Meters

Smart meters can be programmed to send alarms when certain events occur, such as potential tampering. These alarms would be transmitted through the network to the Head-End system, where they could then be monitored and investigated to determine if further action is warranted. By monitoring meter events, Oncor can now proactively resolve customer issues before the customer complains, identify potential theft of service, and detect other potential problems.

Oncor’s Measurement Services organization is now responsible for monitoring key meter events and determining the resolution. In order to handle these additional responsibilities, Oncor established a new role, the Meter Data Management System (MDMS) analyst. The Head-End system sends the events to the MDMS for display to the analyst, who then determines the resolution for the event.

An example of an event is reverse rotation, which could be caused by a customer tampering with the meter for the purpose of stealing power. The meter, upon detection of reverse rotation, will send an alarm to the Head End, which passes it to the MDMS, and displays it as a service request. The MDMS analyst will have access to both summary and detailed information for meters, with the ability to drill down to individual meter historical data in order to investigate the event. The outcome of the analysis will either be the creation of a field service order in Oncor’s Customer Information System (CIS) or a decision that no field action is needed, resulting in the cancellation of the service request.

In addition to responding to events, the MDMS analyst will be responsible for reviewing and evaluating current and historical reports to identify exceptions in the receipt and processing of consumption data received from the meters. Exceptions will include:

  • Meters that have been non-communicating for multiple days
  • Instances where the consumption data failed MDMS validation routines
  • Failure by the Head End to deliver the expected quantity of data to the MDMS

Depending on the severity of the problem, the MDMS analyst can choose to resolve the problem in multiple ways. For example, if a meter has not been communicating for a number of days, the MDMS analyst can attempt to determine whether the problem is isolated to a single meter or if there is a wider communication problem with other meters. If it’s restricted to a single meter, the MDMS analyst can choose to create a field service order, dispatch a truck to investigate the meter, and verify if it needs to be replaced. If there is a larger issue, the MDMS analyst can work with other organizations to pinpoint the root cause and identify potential fixes to the network. By using both the meter events and the MDMS reporting capabilities, the MDMS analyst can ensure the availability and accuracy of the meter data.

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