By combining information about the distribution network topology with data from new smart-grid devices, utilities can develop a wide range of monitoring, analytical and visualisation applications. In so doing, applications will be able to provide the distribution control centre with a higher degree of situational awareness.
The utility will also have a better understanding of loading, losses, phase imbalance and utilisation. This will optimise the utilisation of existing assets and defer capital expenditure for new assets. However, when it comes to upgrading or replacing assets, utilities will be able to make more informed decisions with the data.
In order to take full advantage of this capability, governments are putting regulations into place which requires distribution system operators to make the transformation from traditional electric meters to smart meters.
One such example is in Finland where regulations required distribution system operators to change traditional electric meters to smart meters by the end of 2013. The mass roll-out of smart meters began in 2011. Fortum, a major energy company, has already installed 600,000 meters which are activated according to an hourly plan. The plan was to get all meters activated and connected by the end of 2013.
Harri Hauta-Aho, Project Manager, Fortum, Finland, in his presentation, Effective Advanced Asset Management through Smart Meters at the European Utility Week 2013, reports that the roll-out has been very successful thus far. He explains that it has been a major transformation for the utility as they have gone from receiving data once a year to receiving data hourly from the new smart meters.
He says that there has been a huge transition in terms of core processes and that although the data is currently being used for billing purposes only, it will eventually be used for other purposes like understanding the quality of electricity.
Mr Hauta-Aho points out that there have been numerous benefits for both the customer and the utility:
The customer stands to benefit a great deal from the new technology’s capabilities.
Smart meters have changed a great deal when it comes to customer interaction. Before, all multi-tariff customers had load control through the relay in the meter. Now, it is possible to analyse exactly how much and where you have a controllable heating load. In addition, the utility can now see how many customers are utilising this capability, as well as work out how much and where.
In the past, the utility relied on the customer to inform them about quality issues in the low voltage network. Mr Hauta-Aho explains that there wasn’t a way for the utility to see exactly what was going on without having to send a crew out to the field. This also helps the utility to manage the low voltage grid more efficiently and avoid long outages. It is also much safer to operate.
With the smart meter continuously delivering information on power quality events, there is an enhanced focus on grid maintenance. This also helps the utility to prioritise new investments.
Grid analysis optimises investments and helps when requesting grid investment in grid. The utility now has access to data which can advise what systems need upgrading.
The smart meter provides the utility with constant updates so that they can work more pro-actively. Says Mr Hauta-Aho, “Before, customers advised us when there was a problem. Now, we are able to advise customers that there is a problem and that we are working to resolve it.”
The utility can now also remotely connect and disconnect a service. This helps to better manage sites without contracts and also boost the debt collection process.
With real-time intelligence, the utility can operate the power grid more efficiently and enhance security which can only benefit the customer. It also acts as a tool for customers to save energy as they can compare their consumption with other consumers in the area. This tool gives the customer better insight into their consumption.
Says Mr Hauta-Aho: “It’s not only about the systems-it is also about the organisation and its people. It is also a major learning curb as the company and its people learn about new equipment and what it has to offer. Understanding the technology’s potential is key.”