(1) Background

Smart meters are playing a critical role in shaping the electric grids of tomorrow and enabling the integration of new, grid-related technologies. As the power grid evolves into a broad platform for integrating new energy services and technologies, the ability to connect legacy assets to systems and integrate new ones is critical. Smart Meters are supporting this evolution. In addition, the data collected by smart meters (or advanced metering infrastructure, known as AMI) opens the door for greater integration of new resources and new energy services for customers. This utilities transformation will eventually take Business As Usual (BAU) internal processes into more digitized event driven processes and which will be governed by connected Grid sensors, digitally connected In Home Devices (IHD) and smart meters.

The diagram below illustrates how regulatory push and cost pressures could transform the electric utilities of today into the digital utilities of tomorrow.

(2) Trends in Energy and Utilities (E&U)

The IT landscape of energy and utilities is becoming more and more digital. However, there is not yet a clear consensus on digital transformation objectives, such as the desire to embed customer experience at the heart of the business strategy and the need to deliver operational improvements. Key drivers to smart energy services trends include the following:

  • Continued industry restructuring (demand side participation)
  • Fast-paced smart initiatives – Smart grid technology and smart meter installations
  • Real-time grid analytics, digitization helping utilities interact with customers effectively and efficiently
  • Energy savings through online campaigns and electronic channels.
  • Online customer interaction and social network collaboration: Analyzing the consumer’s behavioral patterns and quickly addressing the issues through the use of social networking and online interaction 
  • Challenge of meeting the renewable energy management targets – Hitting the 2030 target of renewable energy-based electricity 99.9% of the time at rates comparable to those of today 

The leaders recognize the need for cloud strategies and have started defining a timeline for migrating non-SCADA (SCADA – Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition systems or software application program for process control, the gathering of data in real time from remote locations in order to control equipment and conditions utility industry) systems to the cloud, ensuring a 30-40% reduction in the cost of infrastructure setup.

Installed at a remarkable pace, about 300 million smart meters programs have been deployed so far, with the number jumping to a potential 1 billion in 2025. Customers need smart meters that work in real-time using two-way communication. Furthermore, Smart Home technology capabilities are being built into this area, focusing on both QA and testing.

Increased energy efficiency has reduced the need for energy consumption, while the distributed generation of renewables has increased the overall supply. Smart grids are responsible for balancing load and demand.

E&U Trends: References from WQR2016

The WQR2016 supplied the following data:

  • 27% of the survey participants from the E&U segment indicate having added a dedicated Chief Digital Officer. 19% suggest that their Digital transformation is in the hands of their IT leadership (CIO). 8% indicate that digital transformation resides within the business leadership.
  • 43% of survey participants in E&U segment are already testing both the user interface and the ease of use of mobile applications, and 17% of the QA and testing budget is spent on mobile solutions. 48% of respondents say they do not have right testing process or method for mobile and multichannel testing.
  • Cyber security for energy grids is an area in need of attention. 52% of survey participants indicate concern about the security of sensitive data on the device or over the air; this is more than in any other aspect of mobile testing, especially for field-based workforce. 

 

(3) Typical Challenges in the Energy & Utilities (E&U) Segment

Typical challenges in Energy & Utilities segment include the following:

  • An aging work force: high labor force participation rates are in the 55 to 64 age group. Furthermore, we have an aging infrastructure (investor-owned utilities will need to make infrastructure investments in the competitive market).
  • Environmental concerns: climate scientists expect “dangerous climate change” sometime between 2025 and 2030, which will be followed by strict regulations.
  • Energy technology consumerization: utility customers are adopting new energy-focused technologies, such as rooftop solar, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs), and intelligent thermostats.
  • Cyber Security Concerns: smart meter data will raise many privacy and data protection issues that will also need to be addressed by utilities.
  • Failures in smart grid implementation (pertaining to integration of Outage Management System (OMS), Distributed Management System (DMS), SCADA systems)
  • Uncertain regulatory environment
  • Demand response and pricing: consumers are keen to reduce their electric bills and target energy saving mechanisms

(4) Smart Meters and Smart Grids

With 300 million smart meters deployed, utilities are now focused on integrating and optimizing information gathered by smart meters and transmitted by Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) communications systems, as well as from other investments in the digital grid, to provide benefits and new capabilities to customers and system operators. AMI systems integration with outage management systems (OMS) and distribution management systems (DMS) is providing enhanced outage management and restoration with improved distribution system monitoring. Smart meters position the grid as a platform for the integration of energy resources such as distributed generation, community solar, electric vehicles, storage, and micro-grids. Smart metering gives customers real-time consumption information via display devices that translate the meter reading into a language the customer can easily understand. These devices help customers change their consumption habits without waiting for the end of the month or the end of the quarter to view the results from conservation initiatives.

A smart metering landscape includes the transportation of data from meters using various communication channels (e.g., GPRS, RF Mesh). There is a layer of MDM that stores and carries out various functions like Validation and Estimation. The meter data is used for various services like billing, asset, and work management. The communication of the meter data to the back-end system occurs through an integration layer. Therefore, a typical smart metering landscape includes a range of solutions and products that include systems for data collection, meter data management (MDM) systems, multiple integration layers, and the back-end ERP systems, the latter involving a mix of Legacy systems.

The term Smart Grid refers to a modernization of the electricity delivery system. It monitors, protects, and automatically optimizes the operation of its interconnected elements. It starts from the central and distributed generator and moves through the high-voltage transmission network and distribution system, to industrial users; from building automation systems to energy storage installations, end-use consumers and their thermostats, electric vehicles, appliances and other household devices. Smart Grid technology affects many applications and system integration. From a testing perspective, this results in work that is executed in multiple streams, components, and phases. Smart grids help to provide metrics data on distribution, resource allocation, and energy consumption.

(5) Testing Process for Smart Metering Infrastructure (SMI)

The complex nature of E&U infrastructure calls for special attention and testing at each point, and such testing is susceptible to failure. Special attention also must be given to issues regarding security, data integration, technology compatibility and convergence, and performance.

The scope of a smart metering testing program includes: integration testing; performance and availability testing; factory and site acceptance testing for the meter and grid data collection; and management systems as well as operational business process testing.

In the overall process of testing, individual application teams perform the complete development / Unit Testing and System Acceptance Testing (SAT) for SMI in-scope systems. System Integration Testing (SIT) scope is conducted by the System Integration test team. The business team of the program contributes in Business Integration Testing (BIT) (also known as User Acceptance Testing) with management, technical and SME support provided by the Integration and test team. It includes test planning, scripting, execution for each release/sub-release. Testing around meter networking, organization readiness, In Home Devices (IHD) falls under the specific vendor and service providers.

While the System Integration test team has the accountability for the acceptance of the SMI deliverables from the quality assurance perspective, there are some areas that will not be tested by the System Integration test team. For all such areas, the System Integration test team reviews the testing reports and conclusions from the individual work streams and/or vendors that performed the testing. The SI testing checks the maturity from all areas of testing as highlighted in the above diagram. Sub-system maturity, as reported by all test teams involved, will feed in to the overall maturity radar of the System Integration test team.

(6) Conclusion

Clean energy leadership is at the heart of the smart metering and infrastructure (SMI) program and enables utility operators to achieve goals for self-sufficiency and conservation. The SMI program puts control back into the customers’ hands by enabling them to view, manage, and control energy use to save money. To make smart energy and smart cities a reality around the world, various stakeholders—including policymakers, regulators, utilities, cities, vendors, consumer advocates, and others—have to collaborate together. This will ensure that eventually, we achieve the benefits of smart energy and smart cities by delivering a safer, more-efficient and more-sustainable way of living.

Authors

Main Author – Renu Rajani, Vice President, Testing Global Service Line, Capgemini India, renu.rajani@capgemini.com

Contributing Author – Mukund Thaker, Senior Solutioning Manager & SME for Energy & Utilities; Testing Global Service Line, Capgemini India, mukund.thaker@capgemini.com