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January 28, 2018

Managing Smart Electric Meters- Things to Consider

The utility industry has been witnessing an immense rise of smart electric meters Implementation across the globe. With the digital revolution setting in, there has been an increasing move towards enabling advanced metering infrastructure(AMI) for effectively managing meter data and operations. The ability to enhance grid reliability, effectively manage peak loads and passing the control of usage back to the end customers have all catalyzed this trend. The envisioned benefits of smart meters to the Industry are many, but for me as an asset management consultant it gets me thinking- What's in store for me?

Let's look at the end to end life cycle starting from ordering of Meters to retiring them, it can be observed that while the Meter Asset Management closely follows the core EAM process the specifics of asset volume, regulatory reporting, tracking the operation parameters brings in the variation. 
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High Level Process for Meter Asset Management

Listed are the challenges we see in a typical meter asset management process.

1. Huge volume of Assets: on-boarding millions of assets adds challenges on multiple fronts including procurement, inventory and work management
2. Complex Asset Configuration: Multiple asset attributes which are critical for  functions such as construction, programming, billing, testing, recalls etc. needs to be captured.
3. Tighter Regulatory Compliance:  Financial( billing) and safety regulation needs to strictly followed
4. Higher Testing Standards: Sampling tests, process variability and various other testing increases the purview and complexity of the meter testing process
5. Complex Procurement and Inventory Management: Bulk ordering, receipts, issue & transfer and complex back-haul process have their associated challenges.
6. A complex systems landscape: Involving multitudes of system to support functions such as billing, testing, field work force management, financial management
7. Interoperability and real-time integrations to ensure sync of systems
8. Need for automating the process for different asset classes
9. Manage Assets Class- Varied asset classes such as electric meter, current transformers, potential transformers, recorders, test equipment  etc. fall within the purview of meter asset management  and requires adherence to respective unique asset management needs

The Process Overview

To address key challenges  and ensure an effective meter asset management, it is important to understand the key process needs  within the domain.

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Meter Asset Management Process- Key Needs

1. Meter Asset Registration

a) Meter Definition

Meters are identified by their badge numbers, these numbers are printed on the meters and are barcoded for their easy identification. Along with the Smart Meter Assets in the electricity domain, there are supporting asset classes such as current transformers, potential transformers, test equipment etc. having specific process requirement which needs to be managed within the purview.

b) Meter Ordering and Receiving Process

A typical meter asset management starts with ordering process for the meters. While ordering of Meters follows a straightforward procurement process, the bulk shipment of Meters results in a complex receiving process. Features such as ASN helps here, template based asset creation can also be followed based on the needs.

c) Meter Asset Configuration

Meter Assets are also identified by their key constructs in the form of configuration. Attributes such as current rating, voltage rating, program Id, configuration type etc. forms key configuration parameter of a typical digital meter, some of these attributes are key for billing functions and therefore very important to capture the values and track changes. A typical AMI meter would contain in excess of fifty attributes defining key construct of the meter assets ranging from the manufacturer to precisely stating how the meter can be read, billed and configured. The meter asset management system should esuring changes to the attribute values are tracked and at the same time being sent over to billing system effectively. 

2. Meter Asset Testing

a)Sampling Tests- Process Variability
Billing accuracy and safety of equipment and premise would largely depend upon the quality of the Meters installed on site and therefore they become a key feed to the regulatory reporting. The process variability testing based on statistical tools such as X Bar and Sigma Charts are heavily relied upon to gauge the quality of Meters being received.

b) Routine/Regulatory/Complaint

Tests are performed on almost all meters,both faulty and functioning,  received back from the customer site to ensure the operational status and determine the next action ( scrap v/s inventory). Complaint tests are performed on meters deemed to be faulty by the customer. Random sampling tests are also performed on  meters installed on customer premise as part of regulatory policies.

3. Meter Asset Operations

a) Meter Installs/Removals/Reprogramming

Meters are are isued to field crew for Installation on customer site. Other activities in the Meter operation involves  meter removals, meter reprogramming and , onsite meter testing ( sometimes needed as part of regulatory needs/random aampling). All these functions to be perfomed on site requires an authorization trough a wokrorder or a field acitivity. A meter asset management system needs top ensure upto date information about meter configuration needs to be shared with the field crew to perforom their operations. Also, the system should capture details of tests being performed onsite along with reprogramming or configuration changes.

b) Pallet Management and Backhauling

One notable aspect of Meter Asset Management is the identification and segregation of meters depending on attributes such as make model and other Meter configuration parameters. Meters are arranged in wooden Pallets based on the segregation, it helps in easy identification and storage of meters.The segregation also heps in various functions including Issue of right Meters to the right field crew and work, supporting Return Material Authorization(RMA) process and Salvaging.The allocation of Meters to the Pallets can also performed based on operational parameters such as reason for failure, reason for removal etc. which will help in supporting functionalities related to the backhauling functions. The backhauling function helps in effectively coordinating the removal or Meters since the time it was removed from the custromer site till it reaches the warehouse.

4. Meter Asset Retirement

Failed meters are seldom repaired owing to thier low costs, any failed meters which are not covered in warranty are typically scrapped and retired from the system. Accounting and billing systems will need to be synced with the retirement details.

Meter Asset Management- System Landscape and Interoperability 

Interoperability  becomes a key aspect in consideration of various functions the meter asset management relates to, to name a few, these are meter testing solution( test boards testing new and used meters), billing, supply chain functions( meter ordering, inventory management process), mobility( enable field crews to perform meter installs/ removals/reprogramming), plant accounting( install and retirement infomation)

Before embarking on smart meters implementation, it is imperative to build a strong foundation of meter asset management process within the organization. It is only then we can realize the true potential of the smart meters and its benefits.