Designing a Smart Grid Network for All Stakeholders
Originally published June 1, 2013
For more than 100 years, electricity, water and gas meters were built as single-purpose devices for creating billing data. Because meters were (and still are) viewed as the cash registers, the focus has long remained on increasing their accuracy and reliability.
In the 1990s, with the availability of low-cost, low-power radios, some utilities enabled remote meter reading by installing radios inside the meters and using handheld devices and eventually mobile—van or airplane—devices. These initial meter-reading systems were referred to as AMR, automated meter reading. These AMR investments would typically provide a reasonable payback of about five years, but were limited to one-way, kilowatt-hour data collection. The systems did not, however, address commonly needed features, including demand reset and time-of-use metering. Such shortcomings limited AMR to simple residential and small commercial metering. Despite the shortcomings, the process improvements were significant enough that many utilities deployed AMR and the focus of the 1990s became centered on improving processes with the goal of lowering operating costs.
In 2003, Elster introduced a new approach to AMR and called it AMI, automated metering infrastructure. While AMR was a single-purpose system, kWh data collection, AMI was designed to be a multi-purpose system. Where early metering was product-focused and early meter reading was process-focused, AMI was deemed to be people-focused. The idea was that the investment should be positioned to serve people’s needs throughout the community— not just the needs of the utility meter reading department.
Addressing changing needs of the stakeholder
To help sustain this line of thinking, Elster developed a conceptual model called the 360 Degree View. This model can serve as a guidepost for all utility technology investments. The centerpiece of the 360 Degree View concept is that a smart grid network should be designed and architected with everyone’s needs in mind. A graphical depiction of this concept is shown.
The central theme to the 360 Degree View is to recognize all stakeholders while solutions are developed. For many technologists, this means getting out of their comfort zone (the yellow quadrant focused on utility engineers) and addressing the other quadrants (consumers, community leaders, and utility executives) as they design their solutions. Ultimately, the goal is to design and communicate a system for the benefit of the whole community. This approach can help address the different and changing needs of the stakeholders in the different quadrants of the 360 model.
Among many technology vendors, public power utilities are viewed as more risk-averse, more cautious to adopt and more burdened by budget pressures than cooperatives and investor-owned utilities. But an honest assessment of a reluctance to invest in new grid technologies must recognize that for too long, the decisions about technology investments have remained disconnected from public power consumers and their community leaders.
Consumers want convenience and choice regarding rates, load control programs and conservation efforts. Utilities must make clear how new investments in advanced metering, outage management, SCADA and other smart grid technologies will provide products and services consumers will value. The goal is to build and describe a value package that is so compelling that public power customers urge city officials to upgrade their electric systems and services.
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