When utilities first adopted Power Line Carrier (PLC) technology, the ability to leverage existing power lines for a communications network was a powerful narrative. This was especially true for utilities or cooperatives that serviced rural areas. They were able to quickly realize the value of PLC by reducing truck rolls and eliminating manual tasks such as meter reading. This was a definitive factor in the transition to PLC.
However, the world today is increasingly becoming dependent upon real-time connectivity and big data. And this is a problem for legacy PLC systems. The advantages of radio-frequency wireless over PLC networks has been well documented. Today’s next-gen RF wireless networks give utilities increased access to vast amounts of data, allowing for faster grid operations management and removing wasteful activities that are both costly and labor intensive. Lost in the midst of the utility-centric benefits is how this greater connectivity affects the customers or members within a utility’s service area.
There are three primary ways that customers benefit from RF wireless AMI systems:
- Faster outage restoration
- Increased data visibility
- Stronger protection from cyber threats
Faster Outage Restoration
It’s simple. Today’s member expects the lights to stay on. If there is an outage, the expectation is that power will be resolved quickly. Wireless RF technology removes many of the roadblocks to restoring service.
An example is the “last gasp” functionality found in many smart meters today. When there is a loss of power, the meter transmits a signal alerting the utility of a potential problem. This signal is transmitted on a dedicated channel, which removes the opportunity for interference from everyday AMI read signals. In the case of an outage, instead of waiting for a phone call indicating there is a problem, the utility can take a proactive approach using real-time communications in a data-rich environment. This data gives utilities crucial information that can be used to precisely pinpoint the optimum location to dispatch line workers.
Additionally, the system has the ability to immediately alert the utility once power has been restored. The co-op can then quickly communicate the resolution to its members, providing a crucial customer connection during a time of need.
Increased Data Visibility
Understanding fluctuations in your monthly electric bill and pinpointing specific actions that impact it is an exercise in futility. Invoices are traditionally a reflection of the previous month’s electricity usage in KwH. While this might be how bills have always been presented, it’s not an optimum experience for the consumer. It’s very possible that your members will be surprised or even angry at the bill.
This after-the-fact billing method has many issues, especially for members that are used to having information readily available at their fingertips. Giving visibility to energy usage in a timely manner is a crucial component of empowering change. With wireless RF AMI communications, meter reads are communicated back to the utility every 15 minutes, which allows for the energy usage data to be offered via a customer-facing portal. Members can proactively look at energy usage in the portal or set up usage alerts to give updates in near real-time. This immediate feedback loop gives members an increased level of control over their power consumption.
Stronger Protection from Cyber Threats
In today’s world, data breaches are commonplace. From Equifax to Target to Home Depot, it’s becoming painfully apparent that there are nefarious actors working diligently to access private data. And the utility industry is paying attention. In Utility Dive’s 2018 State of the Electric Utility survey, respondents overwhelmingly stated that physical and cyber grid security is important or very important and it topped the list of the sector’s most pressing issues for the second year running. Utilities are placed in an unenviable position of running a very complex grid efficiently, while also keeping it locked up securely.
In the middle of the equation is the member and an understanding—or more importantly—an expectation that private data is being adequately protected. On some PLC networks there is a level of complacency surrounding meter data security. A common belief is that since data is being transmitted over a wired network it is inherently more secure than data that is transmitted wirelessly. Unfortunately, that is not always the case.
Wireless smart meter data encryption offers unparalleled protection. The gold standard, AES-256 bit encryption, offers the highest level of protection available. This is the same level of security that the U.S. government requires for transferring sensitive data. By using this level of encryption you are protecting your member’s data and providing them with peace of mind. It’s imperative that utilities prioritize their members’ data security, now more than ever.
Easily transition from PLC to wireless AMI. Take a look at our PLC to RF Wireless Blueprint for additional information.
About the Author
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