At the time, I didn’t realize it. But I had a very fortunate childhood. I lived a middle-class existence with parents that were willing to invest time and money to give me learning experiences that weren’t readily available to many of my classmates.
For instance, when I was ten years old, my parents brought home a revolutionary new piece of technology—a Commodore 64 personal computer. In 1983, this was considered a top-of-the-line machine. It had 64kbs of RAM, a sweet external tape drive, a floppy-disc drive, and of utmost importance at the time…most of my friends were a touch envious.
We were early adopters and part of the personal computer revolution. As you can probably guess, this sense of technological wonder was short-lived. In fact, from the moment we bought the system, it was on a death spiral to obsolescence.
The world was changing. People wanted faster processing, more storage, and an intuitive user experience—the Commodore 64 couldn’t keep up. What was once the marvel of the neighborhood, was now gathering dust in the garage. Five years after my parents brought home the Commodore 64, it was obsolete. We had moved on to a newer, more powerful IBM-compatible machine.
This personal anecdote reminds me of the AMI journey that cooperatives took in the early-to-mid 2000s. Co-ops were also early technology adopters and saw tremendous value in using Power Line Carrier (PLC) technology to make operations more efficient. Often serving areas that were geographically spread out, the idea of communicating over existing power lines made a lot of sense.
Since Congress passed the Rural Electrification Act in 1936, co-ops have taken pride in serving rural communities with reliable and affordable electricity. Up till that point, 9 out of 10 rural homes did not have access to power. Helping members is in co-ops’ DNA.
With the installation of PLC systems, co-ops were able to reduce the costs associated with monthly meter reads, while also gaining more visibility into the health of their grid. Their members benefited fiscally and through better service. Co-ops that installed PLC 10-15 years ago were technology trailblazers.
But, much like the Commodore 64, PLC systems do not have the speed to keep up with the demands of the modern world. When comparing most PLC systems to wireless RF AMI, it’s easy to see how far technology has advanced.
Fifteen-minute meter reads is just the beginning. Being able to communicate with meters at the grid edge gives utilities the ability to monitor voltage, analyze transformers for potential failure, and most importantly to your members, the ability to pinpoint outages and roll trucks to the problem spot quickly. This only scratches the surface.
Yesterday’s PLC system isn’t all that different from the Commodore 64—a fantastic product that has seen its time pass. PLC systems should be placed on the basement shelf to gather dust.
It’s time to move on to more powerful technology.
About the Author
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