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What Happened in Texas

Evaluating smart meters and public backlash.

Fortnightly Magazine - December 2010

evaluating the cause of failed communications can yield benefits down the road if those failures are caused by broader hardware or firmware issues.

Establish a Systematic Process to Monitor and Evaluate Meter Event Codes:

As with any technology, meters sometimes fail or cease to perform to acceptable standards for a variety of reasons, and this is true for both smart meters and electromechanical meters. However, problems with electromechanical meters might go undetected for long periods, even years, whereas in many cases problems with a smart meter can be detected relatively soon, if not immediately, after the problem arises. If a smart meter isn’t performing to acceptable standards, the meter probably will communicate an event or error code ( i.e., a red flag) signaling a potential issue. Utilities need to be well versed in the various event codes and logs recorded by smart metes and have processes in place to quickly evaluate the information.

Develop Standardized Tools to Evaluate Smart Meter Performance:

While understanding a smart meter’s reporting diagnostics and event codes is important in evaluating its overall performance, there also is other important information. However, the sheer volume of information available from smart meters can make it difficult to efficiently and effectively extract the relevant information for review. As such, it’s important for an organization to establish standardized reporting and evaluative tools for quickly identifying and assessing smart meters that have experienced unusual events or that might be operating outside of expected performance standards. For example, GPS mapping of smart meter complaints, graphical displays of historical usage before and after smart meter installation, comparative results of previous accuracy tests, and frequency distributions of meter event codes, can all provide useful information in evaluating potential smart meter issues.

Establish Procedures and Thresholds for Escalating Meter Concerns:

Not all smart meter related issues are created equal—some may be inconsequential, others intermittent, while yet others may be more catastrophic. The enormous amount of available information that can be used to evaluate smart meter performance, even with good standardized tools, might still need to go through a triage process to determine the appropriate level of response from the organization— e.g., What can be ignored? What needs to be monitored? When does the meter need to be replaced? When does the meter need to undergo an extensive root cause analysis? Having established procedures and thresholds around such decisions will help eliminate any guesswork. While many organizations have developed, or are in the process of developing, more robust procedures around monitoring smart meter performance, it’s crucial that such procedures be established early in the deployment process to identify and remediate smart meters that have inherent systemic issues.

Perform Root-Cause Analysis on Smart Meter Failures:

Root-cause analysis is particularly important when failures seem to be concentrated in particular hardware or firmware versions. Like electromechanical meters, smart meters can fail for a variety of reasons over their expected service lives. However, the failure of each smart meter could provide useful information in diagnosing potential hardware or firmware issues that need further attention, as well