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Your utility can add advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) value through integrations with other systems, and by keeping your options open with DA, IVVC, CVR, SCADA, OMS and security.

Distribution automation (DA)

Some of the largest benefits and cost justifications of an AMI system are improvements in DA. Before selecting an AMI system, your utility should be sure the system is capable of providing fast and actionable information to enable advanced solutions on the distribution system. Providing pertinent meter data to the DA decision-making process is crucial to realizing the full benefit of the applications below.

Integrated volt/var control (IVVC)

Most utilities use regulators and capacitors to manage voltage and power factor, but maximum efficiency is realized when these two technologies work together. Not coordinating these devices can actually result in capacitors and regulators working against each other.

Quality end-point data, as provided with meter-level information, is critical when automating voltage regulators and capacitor banks on the distribution system. Knowing how changes to these devices impact end-user voltage allows for better insight and cost controls across the system.

Conservation voltage reduction (CVR)

Using integrated volt/var control to flatten the voltage profiles throughout the entire length of feeders lends itself to another concept capable of greatly improving your utility’s bottom line.

With a flatter load profile throughout the length of the feeder, your utility can actually lower the line voltages (permanently or on demand as part of your demand response strategy), and stay within nominal levels.

Findings show a slight reduction in voltage has a negligible effect on the efficiency of connected loads. Again, fast and dynamic meter data is crucial to this application.

Supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA)

When AMI system data is ported into a SCADA system, entire distribution systems become readily viewable in an easy-to-comprehend, visual representation.

During an outage, system operators can easily determine where a fault or outage originated and allows the manual dispatch of crews to specific points on the system. This is simply because the operator has a visual indication of exactly which line segments are live and which ones aren’t.

Advanced SCADA systems are also capable of modeling the results of switching operations before the operator commits to making real-world changes.

Outage management system (OMS)

An OMS application generates a detailed model of a distribution network and provides quick, comprehensive and automated response to outages on the system. These systems often use a utility’s geographic information system (GIS) as a source of data and map-like visualization of disturbances on the system.

An OMS is capable of automatically managing switching points to provide rapid system restoration to the extent possible. By receiving near real-time outage notifications from an AMI system, an OMS application can predict outage locations and respond accordingly, often restoring a maximum number of end-users before line crews are even dispatched to the scene.

For an OMS to do its job, AMI meter data must be fast and unsolicited. If you have to poll a group of meters to get data, or only have access to daily meter data, it’s hard to do anything of value with it.

Does a utility need a GIS for visual or map-like representation of their system? Actually, no. Some of the better AMI systems can provide a set of basic GIS features such as map overlay of the AMI system, visual meter data information and general system health. For some utilities, this may be a more economical solution.

Security

As the capabilities and interconnection of systems in an automated utility grow, so does the risk and sophistication of possible threats. How do you secure a system designed to be openly accessible to adjacent technologies?

Security through obscurity was once the primary means of protecting many different types of systems. If nobody knows the system exists, how could they breach it?

This concept gave way to firewall-based security that attempts to fend off invaders at the system borders. While this is much better than previous methods, it gives potential intruders a focal point of their assault in an effort to overcome system defenses.

Modern security measures must include holistic and comprehensive defenses against attacks, both internal and external. Not only should security measures include a barrier to network intrusion, but also a barrier to propagation of invading traffic if firewall breach occurs.

Even given the amount of press cybersecurity receives, few AMI providers can claim robust, proactive security on their proprietary AMI mesh network. Always bring in the professionals when defending the integrity of your utility networks.

Think about it. Would you trust your organization’s security to a company who has, at most, a couple people focused on security, or an organization built specifically to handle such threats?

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