Electricity supply challenges in Ontario, Canada, have led the provincial government there to take aggressive action on both the supply and demand sides to meet customer electricity needs. Between now and 2025, it’s estimated that Ontario must build an almost entirely new electricity system – including replacing approximately 80 percent of current generating facilities (as they’re retired over time) and expanding the system to meet future growth. However, just as building new supply is vital, so too is conservation. That’s why Ontario’s provincial government is introducing new tools like smart meters to encourage electricity consumers to think more about how and when they use electricity. By implementing a smart metering infrastructure by 2010, the province hopes to provide a foundation for achieving a more than five percent reduction in provincial demand through load shifting, energy savings and price awareness.
Hydro One owns and operates one of the 10 largest transmission and distribution systems in North America, serving a geographic area of about 640,000 square kilometers. As the leading electricity transmitter and distributor in Ontario, the company supports the province’s goal of creating a conservation culture in Ontario and having a smart meter in every Ontario home and small business. The company’s allocation of the province’s target was 240,000 smart meters by 2007 and the full 1.3 million by 2010.
The task for Hydro One and other local distribution companies (LDCs) in the province is to meet the government time line while at the same time building an enabling solution that provides the most upside for operations, demand management and customer satisfaction. Working with the industry regulator and the LDCs, phased goals were established and allocated among the major utilities in the province.
ADVANCED METERING INFRASTRUCTURE AND SOLUTION ARCHITECTURE
Advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) is the term used to describe all of the hardware, software and connectivity required for a fully functioning smart metering system. To view AMI as just a technology to remotely read meters and bill customers, however, would be to miss the full potential of smart metering.
The core of the solution resides with the requirement for a ubiquitous communications network and an integration approach that provides for the exploitation of data from many types of devices (automated meter reading, load control, in-home displays, distribution monitoring and control and so on) by making it available to numerous enterprise applications (for example, customer information, outage management, asset management, geographic information and work execution systems).
To meet this requirement, the Hydro One team architected an end-to-end solution that rigorously sought open standards and the use of IP at all communications levels to ensure that the network and integration would be available to and compatible with numerous applications.
Hydro One’s AMI solution is based on standards (ANSI and IEEE) and open protocols (Zigbee and IP) to ensure maximum flexibility into the future as the technology and underlying applications such as in-home energy conservation devices (two-way real-time monitors, pool pump timers and so on) and various utility applications evolve.
The “smarts” in any smart meter can be housed in virtually any meter platform. Meter reads are communicated at a frequency of 2.4 GHz by a radio housed under the meter’s glass. In essence, the hourly meter reads are transmitted by hopping from one meter to the next, forming a self-organizing network that culminates at the advanced meter regional collector (AMRC). This type of local area network, or LAN, is known as a mesh network and is known for its self-healing characteristics: if communication between meters is interrupted for any reason, communication paths between meters are automatically rerouted to the regional collector to ensure that data is delivered reliably and on time. The installed smart meters also have a “super capacitor,” enabling the meter to send a last communication to the utility when there has been a power outage.
Repeaters provide a wireless range extender for the meters and are used in less densely populated areas in the province to allow data to be transmitted from one meter to the next. Typically, repeaters are needed if the hop between meters is greater than 1 to 2 kilometers (depending on a number of factors, including terrain and ground cover).
Advanced Metering Regional Collectors
Typically installed on poles at preselected locations within a local area network, advanced metering regional collectors (AMRCs) gather the meter readings in a defined area. Most importantly, the AMRCs provide access to the wide area network (WAN), where data is sent wirelessly back to Hydro One. The AMI solution is designed to accommodate either wireless cellular or broadband WAN to backhaul hourly meter reads to the advanced metering control computer.
Advanced Metering Control Computer
The advanced metering control computer (AMCC) is used to retrieve and temporarily store meter reads from the regional collectors before they’re transmitted to the meter data management repository (discussed below). The information stored in the AMCC is available to log maintenance and data transmission faults, and to issue reports on the overall health of the AMI system.
Meter Data Management Repository
MDM/R is the acronym for the province-wide meter data management repository. The MDM/R provides a common infrastructure for receiving meter reads from all LDCs in Ontario, processing the reads to produce billing quality consumption data, and storing and managing the data. The Ontario government has entered into an agreement with the Independent Electricity System Operator to coordinate and manage implementation activities associated with the MDM/R.
Time-of-use “bucketed” data is sent from the MDM/R to Hydro One for any exception handling that may be required and for customer billing. Hydro One prepares the bill and sends it to the customer for payment.
Web Presentment of Customer Usage Data
Customer electricity usage data will be available to customers by 9 a.m. the day after they use it via a secure website. This data will be clearly marked as preliminary data until the customer has been billed.
GOALS, OBJECTIVES AND KEY ACCOMPLISHMENTS
To successfully deploy the smart metering solution described above, the Hydro One team set out to accomplish the following goals and objectives (which are enshrined in project governance plans and daily project activities):
- Balance investment with the regulatory process to ensure that smart meter investments don’t get ahead of changes in regulatory requirements.
- Design, test, prototype and pilot prior to buying or building – a rule that applies to all aspects of the smart meter solution architecture, from the meters and communication network to the back-office systems.
- Delay building solution components until line-of-business requirements are locked down. Solution components that are unlikely to change will be built before other components to minimize the risk of rework.
- Test smart meter deployment business processes, technology and customer experience throughout the process.
- Ensure positive customer experience and value, including providing customers with information and tools to leverage smart meters in an appropriate time frame.
- Use commercial, off-the-shelf (COTS) products where possible (as opposed to custom solutions).
- Include estimation of total cost of ownership (one-time and ongoing costs) in architectural decision making.
- Enable commencement of time-of-use (TOU) billing in 2009.
Key project accomplishments to date have included:
- Building an in-situ lab using WiMax and meters in rural areas to test and confirm open protocols, wireless broadband interoperability, and meter performance;
- Conducting a community rollout of about 15,000 meters to develop and successfully test and optimize meter change automation tools and customer communication processes;
- Mass deploying of just over a quarter of a million meters across the province;
- Designing and beginning to build the communication network to support the collection of hourly reads from approximately 1.3 million customers.
METER AND NETWORK DEPLOYMENT
Meter installation teams surpassed a notable milestone of 250,000 installed smart meters as of December 2007. Network deployment began in 2007 with a planned ramp-up in 2008 of installing more than 2,000 AMRCs province-wide.
Meeting these targets has required well-coordinated activities across the project team while working in parallel with external entities such as MeasurementCanada and others to ensure compliance with regulatory requirements.
Throughout meter and network deployment activities, Hydro One has adhered closely to three primary guiding principles, namely:
Safety. The following initiatives were factored into the project to help maintain a safe environment for all employees and business partners:
- Internal training was integrated into the project from the inception, establishing a thorough yet common-sense compliant safety attitude throughout the team.
- No employee is permitted to work on the project without a full safety refresher.
- Safety represented a key element of incentive compensation for management and executive personnel.
Customer service. Given the opportunity to visit literally every customer, the success of this project is being judged daily by the manner in which the project team interacts with customers.
- Every customer is provided with an information package within 15 to 30 days of the meter change.
- Billing windows are scrupulously avoided through automation tools and integration to CIS in order to eliminate any disruption to the size, look and feel of the customer bill.
- All customers receive a personal knock at the door before meter change.
- All life-safety customers are changed by appointment or have positive contact made prior to meter change if they cannot be reached for an appointment
Productivity. Despite Hydro One’s rural footprint – which includes some areas so remote they must be accessed by all-terrain vehicle, boat or snowmobile – the installation teams maintain an average of 39.6 meters per installer-day with a peak of 97 per installer-day. They have achieved this through automation and a phased ramp-up of installers, including training and joint fieldwork with Hydro One’s partners.
IN-HOME CONSERVATION AND DEMAND MANAGEMENT
Testing will soon be underway using third-party devices for residential demand response programs that operate on the mesh network, including two-way realtime monitors, automated thermostats and load control devices. Optimally for customers, meters will serve as the key head-end device, connectable to numerous other devices within the home as illustrated in Figure 2.
While much of this technology is still in its infancy, North America-wide AMI deployments will rapidly accelerate resulting in greatly enhanced customer service opportunities going forward.
LEVERAGING THE SMART NETWORK TO INCREASE UTILITY EFFICIENCY
Hydro One is also looking ahead to applications that will leverage the smart metering communication network to increase the efficiency of its operations. As illustrated in Figure 3, these applications include distribution station monitoring, enhancements to outage management, safety monitoring, mobile work dispatch and work accomplishment, and asset security. All of the above applications have been tested in a proof-of-concept environment, and individual projects are planned to proceed on a business case basis.