Many utilities are in the exploration phase of upgrading their AMR or first-generation AMI system. Often these systems performed their original job requirements admirably and helped the utility move towards a more efficient business model. But, technology is continually moving forward.
Today’s AMI networks offer much more capability than yesterday’s systems—helping utilities achieve a more reliable, resilient and secure grid. If you are developing an RFP for a new AMI system, then you are in luck. Below are four topics that should be not be overlooked and need to be included in your upcoming AMI RFP.
1) Future and Backwards Compatibility
There is one comment that I have heard repeatedly from utilities. They want an AMI solution that lasts. Their initial investment needs to be capable of expanding to include new solutions as they come available while also continuing to support existing assets. This just makes sense. As an example, when an AMI system is launched, new metering endpoints will need to be purchased, and you’ll want them to be supported for the life of the system. Over time, you’ll also want to be able to add new solutions and endpoint types released by your AMI vendor.
I recommend that utilities include bid requirements that ensure that the new AMI system can support all vintages of endpoints and network equipment for the life of your new system. Investigate past vendor performance and see if their AMI networks from 5-10 years ago are still supported. Is there a history of stranding assets? Or, perhaps the vendor is now promoting a new network that has features not available to older systems? Scalability and backward compatibility is important moving forward and should be included in your RFP.
2) Control and Monitoring Capability
Your AMI system should support various use cases that include both metering and distribution automation. First generation AMI systems primarily focused on billing reads and data collection. Today, your network should also be able to monitor and control distribution equipment. By connecting to your SCADA system, you can expand its reach to system assets out on your distribution feeders.
Most often, I see utilities focused on getting the billing read side of their new AMI system going first. This is usually a utility’s number one focus with a new AMI system. I agree with this approach, but don’t forget future business cases. By adding the ability to monitor and control distribution equipment like regulators, reclosers, and capacitor banks, your AMI system’s business case can be realized even quicker. Additionally, it provides tremendous value to utility operations and grid reliability which will provide direct benefits to your customers.
In the bid you are putting together, it’s important to make sure that your AMI network isn’t only about data collection. I think it’s smart to get the billing side taken care of first, but don’t discount the value of advanced “Day 2” business cases such as distribution automation.
3) Outage Detection and Reporting
Outages are a normal part of any electric system. When your customer’s lights go out, time is essential. An AMI network should be able to help your repair crews find and fix outages faster.
When I speak with utilities, restoring power after an outage event is often the number two business case mentioned (billing reads is usually number one). This surprises me because some utilities do not rely on their AMI system to help with outage detection and the restoral of power to customers. Based on the amount of money utilities spend on AMI systems, the utility should expect superior outage and restoration data to be supported in their new system.
What does this mean? Ask questions in your RFP about outage and restoral message transmission and support on the AMI system. The faster this information is received, the more efficiently you can deploy crews and get the lights back on. How many times will the meter transmit messages once the power is out? And, for how long? How many of these messages will actually make it back to the utility? In short, bids should push for data that enhances outage restoration.
4) Advanced Safety Features
All new electric meters for your AMI system should comply with both the traditional ANSI standards and the new ANSI UL 2735 requirements. This is a must for your meter buying decision.
When selecting residential electric meters, they should also support new safety features like high-temperature detection and have the ability to open the meter’s internal disconnect switch automatically if unsafe conditions are detected. Harmonics and voltage quality information should also be available from meters in the field. Your electric meters are becoming your eyes and ears throughout your system.
It’s important that bids ask for meters that measure and provide this information. Simply put—it’s a safety issue. Your customers deserve it.
Wrapping It All Up
Today’s AMI systems have much to offer. Picking the right one for your utility is imperative and will have lasting implications for your future growth and operational success. I hope you will find this feedback helpful as you move through your bid preparation process. If you’re considering an AMI investment, here’s a RFP template to help get you started.
Is there anything that I missed? If so, leave a comment, and I’ll address.