Grid Modernization

Utilities using AMI infrastructure, data in multiple ways

After first focusing on the cost saving benefits of advanced metering infrastructure, utilities are using the infrastructure and data AMI gathers in multiple ways, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Energy.

The report — Leveraging AMI Networks and Data — is part of DOE’s Advanced Grid Research division’s “Voices of Experience” initiative that aims to share information among utilities. The report grew out of conference calls, one-on-one interviews and regional workshops with utility employees.

The report is a guide to the different ways that utilities are using AMI and offers examples and tips on how utilities can launch AMI-related programs or add on to the ones they already have.

Advanced meters give utilities granular information about system operations and customer energy use that allows utilities to operate more efficiently and enables a shift in how utilities interact with their customers, DOE said in the report.

“AMI is allowing [utilities] to improve customer service, automate processes, protect revenue, improve power quality, verify outages, increase reliability, evaluate asset health, and more,” DOE said.

DOE found that there were a handful of key themes that emerged through discussions with utility officials.

Utility use of AMI is evolving, according to the department. “Even the most seasoned users of advanced metering talked about what they are learning as they become more familiar with the data and what they are planning to do with their systems in the future,” DOE said.

As a result, utilities should plan ahead and build a system that is flexible, scalable and can addressing future needs and demands, according to the report.

AMI does more than billing and rates, according to the report. “When [AMI] data is paired with data from other systems or even external sources, it provides even more insight into how the system is operating,” DOE said.

The Sacramento Municipal Utility District, for example, was able to cut the dispatch of trucks by “hundreds of thousands” of times by using AMI remote connect/disconnect functionality, according to the report. SMUD is a California public power utility.

Also, DOE said AMI sparks new customer relationships. “AMI enables proactive customer communications, new products tailored to the individual, and real-time communications and services that customers have become accustomed,” DOE said.

Integrating other systems into a fully deployed AMI increases overall value, according to the report. “While each utility will have to decide the best approach for deploying their system — based on cost, priorities, and operating considerations—some value streams can only be achieved by having smart meters at all locations,” DOE said.

Integrating AMI with other systems like outage management, distributed energy resource management systems, or customer systems can lead to new ways to automate processes such as service orders and customer alerts, DOE said.

AMI allows utilities to become more proactive, representing a paradigm shift, according to the report. Utilities, for example, may be able to tell from their AMI data that a problem is emerging that needs to be addressed.

“This allows utilities to proactively plan for and address issues during normal operating hours rather than having to wait for an actual failure or customer call which might require the utility to roll a truck—sometimes in the middle of the night,” DOE said.

The last major theme of the report is that AMI is worth the cost. Even though the initial investment in AMI is significant, when utilities in the Working Group involved in the report were asked if AMI was worth the cost, the resounding response was yes, DOE said.

However, DOE said AMI can trigger major changes at utilities.

“AMI upends an organization,” DOE said. “It requires new organizational structures, processes, skillsets, and integration with legacy systems that can be challenging.”

Other Voices of Experience reports cover renewable energy integration, advanced distribution management systems and smart grid customer engagement.

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