Few companies achieve sustainable high performance. Markets change but companies fail to adapt, and investors are unforgiving. Utilities, and new entrants, learned this lesson during the first...
Envision the Utility of Tomorrow
machinery to prevent downtime and ensure regulatory compliance, this could create an entirely new infrastructure for data collection and delivery of services.
For example, say a transformer experiences a problem. Rather than passively waiting for the technician, the transformer's sensors communicate with similar transformers to see if the issue is a design flaw or a single aberration. The transformer can then tell an engineer what tools and parts are needed for the repair. A circuit breaker can confirm that it's been shut off before allowing the repair to begin.
The transformer also can access its maintenance history and, by rerouting certain functions, allow the system to continue operating. When the technician arrives, information can be accessed through a PDA for previous notes, past repair or service information, and possibly even a video detailing the previous service.
Real-time sensor data allows for early detection and diagnosis of potential problems or defects, ordering of replacement parts, and scheduling of repairs. Assembling data over time and range of machinery may help detect problems or defects in a particular model before it breaks down.
The implications for utilities, besides reduced downtime, include increased safety, cost savings, and improved product design.
Taking the concept one step further is AMR, potentially a major long-term source of services and revenue for utilities. Although AMR has been around for almost two decades, utilities are now realizing its full potential in load control, pricing, billing, and customer service. AMR penetration is increasing at 20 percent to 30 percent annually, although in recent times utilities have held back, primarily due to weak business cases and lack of a perceived imperative.
A widespread AMR deployment can provide actual customer usage data at the meter-level across a distribution network. This helps to reduce load-research time and to more accurately predict power purchase needs and selling opportunities.
It also facilitates demand-side management programs in which consumers monitor real-time power usage on their AMR meters, and then make decisions on the most cost-effective use.
For instance, customers can decide to turn down an air conditioner to uncomfortable levels during premium time-of-use periods by monitoring their usage through Web-based tools and signalling the utility. Or, a customer may program his/her thermostat to make these adjustments based on pre-defined "high price" time windows.
Some AMR solutions also can notify the consumer via pager, phone, fax, or e-mail when usage is nearing pre-targeted load amounts or spending levels, to permit educated decisions about usage.
This two-way interaction through AMR, combined with data collection capabilities, could form the basis for greater marketing opportunities for utilities, based on customer usage patterns.
If a customer's usage drops during a particular month every year, for instance, it could indicate an annual vacation period. The utility could combine with a dog kennel or lawn-care company to offer such services while the homeowner is away.
Reliability as the Cornerstone
Such advances in technology will assist the utility of the future in meeting the challenges of powering an expanding economy. The demand for electricity will only grow as the population increases and becomes ever more reliant