By Ron Chebra

(“Smart,” “Intelligent,” “Advanced”) Meters: Are they mandatory or optional elements for Grid Modernization? By Ron Chebra

Listening to a utility discussing their grid modernization efforts, it seemed obvious from the information provided that “smart,” “intelligent,” or “advanced” meters (pick your favorite adjective) were at the heart of many of the applications that they have planned. Someone asked the presenter the question above; that is, are these edge assets mandatory or optional elements of a Grid Mod effort. The response was, in their opinion that they are mandatory.

As one looks at many of the Grid Mod use cases across the US many are involving applications, such as CVO/CVR/VVO; OMS; Distributed Energy Management (DER), Advanced Distribution Management (ADMS), load balancing, overvoltage management, improved situational awareness, advanced data analytics, etc. There appears to be two common denominators that are core to all of these applications ….. smart meters and a pervasive field communications network.

One of the challenges this then surfaces is for many utilities that took part in the ARRA funding effort that jumpstarted the AMI movement a number of years ago is: are my existing meters “smart enough” to be part of the Grid Mod effort and can the communications networks that have been deployed to support these suitable for other applications beyond the meter to cash business case?

In my humble opinion, that may depend upon a number of factors including: hardware, firmware, capability & capacity and governance.

  • Hardware – does your meter have:
    • Service isolation relay (this many be used for PV isolation)
    • Line and load voltage sensing with high enough resolution (Voltage monitoring for CVO)
    • Enough memory (new firmware updates PLUS roll-back to prior versions)
  • Hardware – does your communications equipment:
    • Support firmware downloads to elements (existing and new devices)
    • Have sufficient memory for new firmware (for node and end devices)
    • Have RF power out configuration capability (for sub nesting)
    • Have an agile RF design (to support new adjacent devices sharing frequencies)
  • Firmware – does your firmware:
    • Support backward compatibility with prior versions (roll back)
    • Enable one to many distribution and verification (especially in mass changes)
    • Prevent potential cyberattacks (most vulnerable event for possible hacking)
  • Capability and Capacity – does the system:
    • Allow new devices to be added to the network (AMI + DA+?)
    • Permit message prioritization by device and message type (QOS?)
    • Parse and distribute messages delivery to targeted system without unnecessary delay (e.g. DMS, ADMS, OMS?)
    • Support sufficient bandwidth and throughput for the new business needs.
  • Governance –overseeing, managing and maintaining the system and common elements:
    • What operating unit inside the organization determines what applications run and when?
    • Who determines when a capacity or capability upgrade is needed?
    • How do you coordinate changes that potentially impact multiple applications and users?

The deployment of AMI meters in North America alone reached the 97 Million mark in 2016 [1], covering approximately 60% of the electricity customers. According to Howard Scott[2], who has studied, tracked and reported on AMI deployments for the past 22 years, the projected AMI deployment in the US and Canada will reach 73% by the end of 2018.

So the questions are:

  • Can I Leverage my exiting AMI to launch or augment my Grid Mod Effort?
  • Should I wait on deploying AMI for better, improved new and even greater capability?
  • What comes first the network, the meter or Grid Modernization effort?

Give us a call, we would love to discuss this with you. There is no simple or single answer.



[2] The Scott Report