AMI for Utilities

The integration of new technological features is changing the dynamics of business operations and offering new values to the customers. The same phenomena is also unfolding in the power utilities market place; with the maturing of the concept of smart grids capable of two-way communications. During the recent past, several utilities have adopted the Advanced Metering Infrastructure in order to increase the efficiency of the utility systems.

 

AMI – A Brief Explanation

 

Advanced Metering Infrastructure combines smart meters, data management systems, and communications networks, enabling two-way communications between customers and utilities. The system measures, collects, as well as analyzes energy usage, and further communicates with measuring devices, like electricity meters, heat meters, gas meters and water meters. There is an abrupt shift in the advanced metering infrastructure system from previously used methods for a meter reading.

The conventional method of meter reading uses AMR technology that allows reading of utility meters by walking near the meters and using handheld devices for recording consumption data. Certain issues like data quality, manual transferring of data, and or missed reading affect the billing accuracy of such a system. 

The integrated system of AMI comes with a number of smart features that were not available earlier in the older systems. A few crucial features like remote and automatic measurement of utility usage, connecting and disconnecting service, detection of tampering, monitoring voltage, etc., make such a system very useful. AMI systems can also manage energy cost and consumption and can help in reducing peak demand. 

Components of AMI

The most fundamental layer of a smart grid system is AMI integrated into several technologies, centered around a lot of networks. There are a few major components that include the smart meter, collector, as well as a server system for connecting to a number of systems. The data is collected and communicated to Head-End Systems for sending to MDMS for managing, validating, and cleansing before making the data available for use to the utility service providers. 

The vital components of the AMI system are as follows

  • Smart Meters
  • Communication infrastructure
  • Head End System (HES)
  • Meter Data Management System (MDMS)
  • Networking

 

Most Important Features of AMI System

  • Smart Meters: End-user smart meters are energy meters with innovative electronic hardware capable of measuring and collecting data in required time intervals. Accepting commands and acting directly is what differentiates smart meters from Automatic Meter Reading due to bi-directional communication availability in AMI. 

Smart meters are able to disconnect consumers remotely if there is an instance of default payments, which is a great benefit for businesses. For consumers, smart meters can help to optimize water metering, as well as other utilities like electricity metering, gas metering, etc. Such optimization possibilities help consumers optimize energy usage and reduce energy expenses. 

A few important functionalities that smart meters provide generally are:

  • Quantitative measurement 
  • Calibration and control
  • Communication
  • Power management
  • Display
  • Synchronization
  • Event Logging
  • Communication infrastructure: The smart meters after collecting the data send the information to an analyzing system, and receive the commands from the operation center. Thus, a highly reliable system of communication remains the fundamental design requirement of AMI. The functioning of AMI involves transferring huge data, the restriction imposed on accessing data, as well as confidentiality maintained for sensitive data. 

Moreover, AMI is capable of representing consumer consumption data as well as the status of the grid. AMI ensures the presentation of authentic data and precision in communicating with the intended devices. Besides this, AMI can support future expansion possibilities and can host the latest facilities that are beyond the requirements of AMI. 

  • Head End Systems: The head-end system or HES, also called the meter control system, remains within the network of the metering company. To communicate with the meters directly, the location of the HES remains in a demilitarized zone (DMZ), due to the services and functionalities provided outside. The head-end computer keeps track of the present state of each meter as well as the parts of the meters falling within the dynamics of the AMI network.
  •  Data Management System: For storing and validating, as well as analyzing data obtained from smart meters, the utilities require systems. Such data finds use in various applications, like billing, emergency situations in the grids, reacting to changes, profiling of consumers, etc. A few such modules are as follows:
    • Meter Data management System (MDMS)
    • Outage Management System (OMS)
    • Consumer Care & Billing System (CCB)
    • Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP).
    • Load Forecasting and Power Quality Management Systems
    • Geographic Information System (GIS)
    • Mobile Workforce Management System (MWM)
    • Asset Management System (AMS)

The core module among all such systems is MDMS that has the core responsibility of performing validation, estimation, as well as editing AMI data. Such actions ensure the flow of accurate information for the modules requesting more information for further application. The functionalities and features for MDMS may vary from a vendor to another vendor, and among all requirements, the application of the data topics remain most important. 

  • Networking: The AMI system consists of many networks, all of which rely on totally different media and various protocols. The three networks most commonly used are the Wide Area Network (WAN), Neighborhood Area Network (NAN), and Home Area Network (HAN). 

 

Key Considerations Utilities Need to Make While Buying an AMI solution

AMI infrastructure does not operate based on a single technology, but it integrates several technologies. Thus, the technical expertise, time for deployment, resources, monitoring, and managing the AMI system is complex as well as demanding. A few key considerations that utilities should consider while selecting an AMI service provider are as follows:

  • Definition: In-depth understanding of the requirements and focus on the goals and objectives of the utility while developing an AMI system.
  • Development: Thorough knowledge of the process and creating the right process suiting the need for utility.
  • Integration: Information technology capabilities for integrating the information collected by the advanced metering infrastructure.

 

Top EMI suppliers

The increasing demand for smart water, gas, and electricity meters are fueling the growth of the Advanced Meter Infrastructure market. A few key players that are contributing to the supply of next-generation AMI are as under.

  • IBM: IBM is going to play a big role in the smart grid market. A number of smart solutions developed by IBM for optimizing the use of energy and generation of power have opened up channels for seamless communication between utilities and consumers. The improved communication networks provided by IBM such as Center Point Energy having an advanced meter system read the meter in 15 minutes intervals as against a one-month interval in the earlier case. 
  • General Electric: General Electric expanded its flourishing line providing solutions for grid modernization helping the global utilities to solve challenges of the real world. With the introduction of Grid IQ advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) Point to Multipoint (P2MP) solution, GE is able to provide high-capacity, scalable, long-range coverage of utility service. 
  • Schneider Electric: Schneider Electric’s vital business focus centers around the digital transformation of data centers, energy management, buildings, home automation, infrastructure, and industries. The company focuses on two main business segments, namely Industrial Automation, and Energy Management, where energy management is divided into medium and low-voltage and secures power businesses.
  • Itron: The global technology company, Itron, builds solutions helping utilities to manage and analyze water and energy. The broad product range of the company includes efficient measurement of gas, water, electricity, and thermal energy, among others. 
  • Aclara: A leading supplier of smart infrastructure solutions (SIS), Aclara, offers smart meters enabling utilities predicting and responding to various conditions, leveraging the distribution networks effectively, and engaging with customers. 
  • Elster: Elster Group, a pioneer in Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI), as well as integrated metering and utilization service offers solutions for electricity, gas, and water industries. Its high-quality AMI products reflect the company’s experience and expertise gained from long years of operation.
  • Sensus: Sensus comes with time-tested technology providing a leading-edge solution for metering for gas, electric, water, and heat utilities throughout the world. The company is actively working to optimize customer resources, and meeting conservation objectives.
  • Tieto Corporation: One of the best AMI solution providers in the world, Tieto Corporation is bringing innovations and making new product launches in the market benefitting utilities and consumers.

Intelligent smart grid utilizing AMI based smart meter is replacing the conventional grid and AMR system rapidly. The Advanced Metering Infrastructure benefits both utility companies and consumers to gain firsthand information and to optimize performance as well as reducing cost. The improved two-way communication system, control schemes, data analysis, smart meters, networking, and many more, ensure stability and better quality of power triggering the growth of AMI. 

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