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Capturing the next innovation wave of Advanced Metering Infrastructure

Tom Mosseau
2020-06-22

SaskPower announced a plan last month to modernize its electrical grid by investing in a central monitoring and control facility in Regina, Saskatchewan. Part of the project will integrate information from its Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) system in order to expand AMI capabilities to connect to other intelligent devices. Ultimately, the goal is cleaner energy generation, lower costs, and various efficiencies.

While there are concerns such as cybersecurity and privacy, most electric utilities view smart-grid systems positively and they are being widely deployed. According to the Canadian government, 82% of the country’s meters are smart. The Energy Information Administration in the U.S. estimated there were 87 million AMI installations in that country at the end of 2018.

Smart-grid technologies can handle the more complex power flows of the modern grid. They allow direct participation by consumers, accommodate all types of generation and storage options, enable new products, services, and markets, provide power quality for the digital economy, optimize asset utilization and operational efficiency, anticipate and respond to system disturbances, and operate resiliently during attacks and natural disasters.

The original idea of smart meters may have been to improve meter-to-cash processes, but there have been other benefits. Utilities can interact with customers to better assess and manage potential load flexibility on the grid and utilities have also enjoyed energy conservation via voltage reduction, improved customer experience and engagement, demand management, and improved revenue assurance practice.

These meters have also created a huge pool of useful business data. Under the old system, utilities would read a customer’s meter 12 times a year. Now they have the capability to get data every 15 minutes. That is a significant increase in customer and grid information, in addition to other data from grid sensors.

The challenge is how to use the data to move the business forward. AMI plays an important role in improving customer service and laying the foundation for new and innovative business models of the future. The Utility Analytics Institute reported more than half of utilities have very limited use for the data they collect, and almost 40% don’t know what to do with it. Less than 10% have standardized data analytic tools and processes.

AMI modernization promises to deliver multiple benefits. SaskPower is expecting to improve optimization of voltage for urban customers and improve power conditions on rural lines to lower electricity use and power quality. Costs could be reduced and system resiliency improved by further integration of automated switches and sensors, even considering the cost of a more cybersecure environment. It is time for utilities to explore the additional benefits of power quality and distribution automation. Drawing data from the AMI system has the potential to make a big impact on the business. It is no longer just a better billing system.

Tom Mosseau is a Vice President at Capgemini as part of the Energy & Utilities practice in North America. He currently manages a large, multi-year services agreement for a leading Canadian electricity transmission and distribution utility. He can be reached at tom.mosseau@capgemini.com.

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