Meter Data Management is for Cooperatives Too!

by Andrew Horstman, Manager of Load Response Wabash Valley Power Association (Indianapolis, Indiana USA)

Wabash Valley Power Association (WVPA) is a Generation and Transmission (G&T) utility based in Indianapolis, Indiana providing wholesale electricity to distribution cooperatives in Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Missouri. Like many utilities in today’s marketplace, WVPA is always searching for ways to reduce and control energy costs. One of the ways to do this is through an active Demand Response program.

However, today’s needs for demand response are more than the traditional direct load control programs that have been in place for years. WVPA not only needs to be able to shed load for system reliability and times of high peaking cost, but also needs the ability to do it in a predictable, reliable, and measureable manner. By being able to accurately measure the response to an event, WVPA expects to be able to aggregate the individual resources and possibly bid them into the wholesale demand response markets.

WVPA’s member cooperatives were also looking for similar solutions. As entities that focus heavily on customer service and satisfaction, some of these cooperatives were trying to decide how best to utilize the large amounts of data being provided by their newly installed (or currently being deployed) AMI systems. The expectation of many of these utilities was that the implementation of a meter data management system would enable them to analyze and utilize the AMI data more productively, and therefore, create new operational efficiencies while providing even better and more automated customer service.

To facilitate meeting the needs of all parties, Utility Integration So­lu­tions, Inc. (UISOL) was engaged to gather requirements and manage the overall RFP process. The company had previously wor­k­ed with another G&T utility headquartered in Maple Grove, Minnesota – Great River Energy – to develop their MDM requirements.

Meter Data Management History
Meter Data Management (MDM) systems have emerged as a necessary component of an overall Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) implementation. They are essential in enabling new billing methods and rate plans, providing data analytics, and enhancing customer communications. As the meter data information hub, they are critical in isolating interfaces between AMI systems and other utility systems that must assimilate and use the meter data. This reduces overall integration costs and individualizes integrations so that technology changes and system upgrades can be handled in a more efficient manner with less overall risk.

MDM solutions were first deployed at larger utilities. In these instances, the integration costs were actually the larger part of the budget, as most of these interfaces involved custom development. However, these costs could be spread over a larger number of endpoints, thereby making the overall project more cost effective.

Cooperatives Need MDM
In the last two years, cooperative utilities have begun looking at MDM solutions. This is not surprising since the needs and problems regarding meter data are not based on the size of the utility and are, in fact, fairly universal. Today’s Advanced Metering Infrastructure systems produce more data than ever, and every utility wants to leverage the value of that data as much as possible.

The need to utilize this data is perhaps best understood by cooperatives, as they have been quite progressive in the deployment of AMR/AMI systems. In some cases, cooperatives are already on the second or third generation of meter
reading systems. A survey taken in the summer of 2009 by the National Rural Electric Cooperatives Association (NRECA) shows that 65% of cooperatives either have deployed or are deploying some type of AMI system.

For the MDM vendors, serving the cooperative market presents some problems in that the economies of scale do not allow large integration and implementation budgets. To offset this, suppliers must be able to offer a lower cost system while still allowing a level of functionality and configurability that will meet cooperatives’ needs.

How can the MDM vendors meet this challenge? There are two things that should eventually enable smooth and reduced cost integration of MDM solutions. The first is the emergence of standards and interface specifications that help define system interfaces in a more universal way. The second is the fact that there is likely much more commonality of systems such as Customer Information Systems (CIS), SCADA, Outage Management, etc. These two items provide promise for overall reduced integration costs, but it is still too early to be certain about the precise amount of savings.

Early Adopters
Some cooperatives have moved forward to implement an MDM solution in order to address specific problems and needs.

When government legislation changed the time period for Daylight Saving Time (DST), Delta Montrose Electric Association (DMEA) in (Montrose, Colo.) had a big problem. DMEA had been using TOU capable meters for years. Suddenly all of these meters needed to be reprogrammed to adapt to the new DST rules. This involved a very costly and laborious process of visiting each and every TOU meter in the field. DMEA wanted a better solution. Since many of their meters were already capable of interval data, an MDM solution capable of processing interval data and aggregating it into TOU bins was a solution that addressed their problem.

Umatilla Electric Cooperative (Umatilla, Ore.) is a distribution utility serving a large portion of the Columbia Basin and the Blue Mountain country of Northeastern Oregon. With a total meter count of approximately 20,000, Umatilla is implementing an MDM solution in order to enable TOU billing using interval data. They have been deploying AMI and MDM simultaneously.

Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative (Bastrop, Tx.) isn’t implementing MDM to solve any particular problem. It has developed an overall and comprehensive approach to the smart grid, which they call the Sustainable Grid. An MDM solution is a necessary component to that vision. With a territory that lies in between and borders the outskirts of Austin and Houston, Bluebonnet is very much aware of its neighboring utilities’ higher profile smart grid projects.

Bluebonnet’s simple belief is that its members have the fundamental right to know their own account data. Therefore, this data needs to be readily accessible through a Web portal, an in-home display, or some yet-to-be-determined consumer interface. Furthermore, Bluebonnet believes that the availability of this data will facilitate an overall reduction in energy usage and ultimately enable a switch to a larger percentage of sustainable resources.

A Shared Approach
WVPA has established a shared approach to Meter Data Management. A total of 68% of the member cooperatives have deployed, are currently deploying, or plan to deploy AMI technology. (Note that this percentage is remarkably close to the NRECA national survey.)

WVPA began investigating MDM solutions in late 2008. Their interest in an MDM solution was more specifically related to enabling Measurement and Verification (M&V) of time-based pricing and demand response events. However they also recognized that WVPA could be the organization that facilitated MDM services to their member cooperatives. What has emerged is a shared implementation approach that creates a win-win solution between WVPA and its member cooperatives at a price that should be well below individual implementation costs.

The diagram below shows some of the more specific interests and objectives of WVPA versus the member cooperatives. As is shown, both WVPA and its members have a great deal of interest in utilizing the available interval data for specific purposes.

The overall goal of the shared implementation is to create a system that each utility can use as if it were their own MDM implementation, while allowing WVPA access to a selected amount of interval data across all member utilities. Under this arrangement, however, data would not be visible or shared among member cooperatives. WVPA would also not have access to additional information such as customer details, etc. This data security issue is an important aspect of the overall implementation and one that is required to gain the approval of all member cooperatives.

WVPA expects to act as the overall host for the system implementation. The initial deployment will begin in mid- to late 2010 and will include up to seven member cooperatives. The selected member cooperatives will share some commonality with respect to AMI technology and/or CIS. One of the crucial aspects of the overall success of the project will be to create a common and consistent interface for each AMI and CIS vendor and to avoid customizations, unless they are expected to ultimately be made part of the standard interface. UISOL has been a strong industry advocate of the development of standards needed to accomplish this capability and is currently facilitating interoperability testing with MDM, AMI, and OMS vendors using IEC 61968-9.

WVPA is not the only organization investigating a multi-organizational implementation. Great River Energy and North Carolina Electric Membership Corporation are also at various stages of investigation of this same concept.

A Really Smart Grid
In many ways, the proposed system will be the realization of a truly smart grid that creates better operations and efficiencies for individual utilities. However, it will also allow those efficiencies to extend beyond individual company borders and work for the common good of the Association. The ultimate goal for WVPA is to create a number of Demand Response and pricing programs that allow them to manage and control energy costs, resulting in lower energy prices for the entire Association.

About the Author
Andrew Horstman is the Manager of Load Response at Wabash Valley Power Association (WVPA). Andrew has been with WVPA for eight years and has worked extensively with the SCADA system there as an Electronic Engineer. As Smart Grid and Demand Response have gained importance within the industry, Andrew moved into his current position, managing these initiatives for WVPA.

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