Much like their peers in the manufacturing sector, electrical utilities are under pressure to transform their business models and grid operations.
They must do so to stay competitive, of course, in addition to other factors including stricter environmental policies (especially related to energy transition achieving net-zero targets), more demanding regulatory compliance on reliability and operational efficiency, growing customer expectations for better services, electricity market deregulation and competition, and an aging infrastructure and high O&M costs (which should sound familiar to manufacturers struggling to bring brownfield assets into the digital era).
To meet these challenges and reap the benefits of smarter and more efficient operations, energy and power-grid infrastructure has major four segments to address—generation, transmission, distribution and consumer end/metering.
On each of these fronts, the role of advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) is evolving. AMI—or “smart” metering, as it is sometimes known—can empower enterprises to reach their digitalization targets by shifting their energy management and efficiency efforts toward utility transformation and energy transition.
The AMI approach can balance supply and demand when usage data is available in real time/near real time or in short intervals, and through effective demand-response/load-response programs, especially at peak load times.
AMI includes the use of digital meters at consumer/user premises, providing a two-way communication network between smart meters and the utility system, and a data-management system called a meter data management system (MDMS) or head end system (HES) that collects, transmits, and records electricity consumption in hourly, daily or other intervals while it aggregates historical trends in multiple reporting formats using advanced data analytics and AI applications.
This is the utilities’ version of after-sale product monitoring employed by, say, Tesla, whose vehicles provide their manufacturing with a constant stream of performance data.
The current state of AMI
Although smart meters have been adopted by utilities around the globe, many are lagging in implementation, failing to take full advantage of this infrastructure to exploit maximum opportunities created by this data and its proper analytics.
The AMI approach not only helps in remote meter reading and billing, but also provides significant additional tools and data that can be used by enterprises to better manage energy supply and demand, efficiently operate the grid with enhanced reliability and reduced outage durations, better manage distribution assets, and further achieve energy-transition targets by engaging their customers through demand-side management to help them make informed decisions in managing their energy usage, which saves them money.
Smart metering simultaneously provides enhanced value to the grid-side service provider (the utilities). With further deployment of distributed energy resources (DERs) "behind the meter," energy consumers are becoming producers as well as consumers (prosumers). This triggers the need for advanced metering services for recording and analyzing energy data from this two-way energy flow through net/smart metering.
Data analytics enables enterprises to provide clear, actionable intelligence from AMI data, but to get the full benefit while deploying an AMI solution, utilities must work closely with specialized technology leaders with diverse experience in the utility space.
For example, some of the embedded elements within an AMI solution (MDMS) are not robust enough to support all the advanced analysis required in addition to performing core functions to extract and manage meter data on a real-time basis for readings and billing. In these cases, a separate platform for advanced data analytics is required to perform this extensive activity without affecting the efficiency of the core basic MDMS function.
Likewise, cloud services are helping enterprises store and process these volumes of data without large initial capital investments. The elasticity of cloud services provides easy upscaling or downscaling of the required infrastructure.
The U.S. Department of Energy recognizes the benefits of smarter data and analytics to accelerate grid modernization. DOE recently announced a $4 million funding opportunity aimed at boosting grid reliability and resilience with advanced data collection and analysis, particularly for those employing solutions that tap into the “tsunami of data” offered by advanced metering infrastructure.