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Smart Metering: TOU Billing Today

Fortnightly Magazine - May 2009

You could, for example, have two meters, one to record incoming power, and one for outgoing power. We’ll have to see.”

Billing TOU rates

A handful of LDCs already have begun billing TOU rates. First out of the gates is Newmarket-Tay Power Distribution, which serves roughly 30,000 residential customers just outside of Toronto. As of April 2009, the company had converted about 16,000 of its residential customers to hourly TOU billing. It expects to have all of them switched over by November. Industrial and commercial customers enter the fray next year.

“We’re switching customers over to TOU billing gradually, so I guess you could say the phase-in process is more of a whimper than a bang,” says President and CEO Paul Ferguson. “The smart meters record and store the hourly data and then report it to the MDM once a day. Then we withdraw the data from the MDM into our CIS.”

Switching to the TOU rates was a four-step process. The new smart meters were installed and began reporting into the LDC’s existing meter-data collection system. At the same time, business processes were mapped to determine what changes would be needed under the AMI program. The meters were then registered with the MDM, which began accepting TOU data. The data was then processed and sent to the CIS for billing.

Newmarket-Tay was fortunate in that its CIS system, which Ferguson says is nearly 20 years old, already was capable of retrieving the data from the MDM without any major upgrades.

“Our strategy was to minimize the changes to the existing system. We wanted the MDM to take over as much of the new function as it can,” Ferguson says. “We had to work with our CIS vendor to modify the system to retrieve three buckets of data, instead of one, from the MDM and do so when we need it and in the form we need it. As long as the MDM identifies those three buckets, our CIS is quite happy with it.”

The biggest challenge, he says, involved revamping Newmarket’s business processes to meet the needs of the new system. Ferguson notes two particular issues.

First, accounting for an “exception” or malfunction in an electro-magnetic meter historically was a relatively simple process. Any gap or delay in the meter reading (past the billing deadline) involved estimating the use data for that time period, re-examining the data for that time slot during the following month’s reading, and then balancing the charges accordingly. Such cases are common to any electric utility. But with AMI, exceptions or gaps in the meter data register in the MDM system on an hourly basis (for every affected hour). Though the MDM can, and often does, self-correct such exceptions, the LDC must step in and correct them manually in certain instances. Hence, what was once a monthly review now has become a daily task.

Second, when replacing an electro-mechanical meter, the meter reading was taken, the new meter installed and a second reading was taken from the new meter. Several days later, the replacement meter and readings