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What Happened in Texas

Evaluating smart meters and public backlash.

Fortnightly Magazine - December 2010

as in assisting the utility in identifying other smart meters that might not be functioning properly. While the primary technology used with smart meters has been in existence for many years, and has been tested extensively, mass deployments currently underway have subjected smart meters to a multitude of conditions and stresses that might not have been anticipated or adequately simulated by current testing methods. A robust meter interrogation and evaluation ( i.e., root-cause analysis) process should be developed with outlined procedures covering the parameters for the physical inspection of the failed meter, analysis of the meter’s historical event logs and codes, evaluation of historical electric usage patterns and trends, and potential additional testing by the utility and the manufacturer, including simulation testing in attempt to recreate the operating conditions and events leading to the meter’s failure.

Evaluate Meter Performance Following Hardware and Firmware Upgrades:

As smart meter deployments ramp up across the world, innovations in designs, technology and manufacturing techniques are constantly emerging. Unexpected or unplanned operating conditions combined with evolving designs (especially hardware) and operating requirements (firmware), as well as expanded manufacturing to meet rising demand, the potential exists for unforeseen problems … problems that could be more quickly identified by evaluating and correlating smart meter performance across distinct meter attributes.

Establish Cross-Functional Teams to Evaluate Smart Meter Performance Issues:

While the inherent technology in many smart meters being deployed today has the capability of identifying, recording and storing an enormous amount of information regarding the operations and performance of the meters, that information must still be captured, analyzed, evaluated and understood for it to provide any meaningful business intelligence. Relevant information can come from various systems within the organization, separate and apart from those responsible for deploying, provisioning and maintaining the meters and, as such, might require specialized knowledge to fully understand the potential impact that various operating conditions, diagnostic results and event codes can have on meter accuracy. Utilities should emphasize the development and education of cross-functional teams including representatives from the information technology, metering, billing, and customer service departments to coordinate and evaluate the potential impact of any issues related to smart meters.

Building Trust

The smart grid will be ineffective for utilities and consumers unless the key components, including advanced meters and associated systems, are properly developed, deployed, administered and monitored. Only then will customers trust the new technology to a point where they’re comfortable taking actions based on the information these advanced meters provide, and thus yielding benefits for themselves, their utility companies, and the environment.

While evaluation shows that the advanced metering infrastructure and associated business processes for each of three utilities in Texas are functioning accurately as planned, this technology is still perceived as new to many customers, and a significant ongoing effort will be required to establish and maintain the trust of the customer.

 

Endnotes

1. Source: Berg Insight Research

2. What is the Smart Grid? , Office of Electricity and Energy Reliability, U.S. Department of Energy.

3. At the beginning of 2010, AEP Texas had yet to initiate