Energy data management staying ahead in a changing market

Paul Boughton

Smart-metering technology - and the huge improvement it offers utilities and consumers alike in energy management information - is a powerful tool for any utility that is able to fully unlock its potential.

Market liberalisation across Europe is increasing the amount of choice available to energy consumers, who now have the right to more detailed and timely information about their energy usage, and who can now choose from an increasingly large range of alternative energy suppliers. The raised awareness among consumers of the services they receive and the tariffs they are charged, combined with the need to win and retain new customers in an ever more competitive supplier market, is forcing utilities to focus on customer retention and satisfaction more than ever before.

European governments, striving to improve customer choice and increase the efficiency of energy usage, have recognised the power of smart metering to deliver a more economic means of managing energy. They understand that Advanced Meter Management (AMM) is the technology that will make it possible for utilities to deliver frequent and accurate energy consumption information to customers, which in turn has the potential to increase energy awareness and change usage behaviour across entire national populations.

The recent EU energy package is an important step towards the realization of smart metering in Europe. Both the gas and electricity Directives stipulate that the European Member States ensure the implementation of 'intelligent metering systems that shall assist the active participation of consumers' in the gas and electricity supply markets respectively. The electricity Directive sets a timeline of 80 per cent coverage by 2020 and every European household should be equipped with smart meters by 2022.

The integration challenge

Existing energy management infrastructures lacks the flexibility and efficiency that utilities need in order to manage the extent of future change while at the same time keeping control of costs. Before smart meters are installed, utilities must face the challenge of how to integrate them with a wide range of other systems. At present, combining business process management with metering management systems is possible only by using several components. In most cases, the SAP EDM system and AMM systems are separated, or linked together with a one-way interface capable of transferring only a very limited set of basic information. Since components are only loosely linked, each utility business process involves coordination by several operators, often with manual steps and multiple data entries by hand. Due to this one-way nature of communication from the AMM system to the EDM system there is usually no possibility to simply execute commands or requests from the EDM system down to the smart meter.

The limited number of possibilities and the complexity of existing processes compel utilities to look for more advanced technology. They require technology that offers a simpler alternative and two-way communication as well as a wider set of functionalities that result in a more economic means of managing their business process flows.

Landis+Gyr and SAP have recognised these problems and designed the Gridstream MDUS solution which enables the seamless integration of SAP EDM with Landis+Gyr energy management systems.

Together, the EDM and AMM systems must deal with a vast amount of information. In addition to providing two-way communication from SAP EDM to the AMM system, Gridstream MDUS offers utilities a unified data storage centre that combines data from any number of AMM systems. It is this unification of the meter data that makes it possible for SAP EDM to communicate with multiple AMM systems in a common and standardized way.

"The integration of Landis+Gyr's MDUS with SAP for Utilities will enable our joint customers to effectively integrate smart metering systems with their business process management solutions and significantly increase their return on investment," said Philip Mason, Gridstream MDUS product manager, Landis+Gyr.

"The solution was created with the utility and consumer in mind and is designed to simplify and enhance utility processes, reduce costs and improve customer satisfaction through accurate billing and efficient customer service. The MDUS software helps utilities efficiently manage energy data by providing a Meter Data Management interface for meter readings, meter event data, master data synchronisation, as well as providing the foundation for message and control commands vital for system maintenance and customer helpdesk applications. The entire system can be controlled by one operator from a single terminal, significantly reducing the time spent on implementing typical customer service tasks."

Making energy management less complex

Gridsteam MDUS has two key elements: the first provides the system level interfaces to SAP and to the AMM system, while the second performs processing and aggregation of the basic meter reading data. The software acts as an interoperable messaging interface and MDM system that enables bi-directional communication between SAP IS-U and AMM systems. It provides all functions and interfaces required for meter data collection, synchronization of the 'master data', such as serial number, location, and status, associated with new device installation or device replacement, multiple-tariff or time-of-use billing parameters, and for remote device connection and disconnection. The SAP IS-U user interface initiates these operations, while MDUS performs data collection and processing required to collect and send the information from the AMM system to SAP.

To survive in today's competitive market utilities must provide a high quality service to their customers. This includes clear and accurate bills based on actual energy consumption, competitive tariff offers, and the ability to communicate more directly with customers using either in-home display devices or the Internet. All of these services require accurate and timely energy consumption information and a highly available communications channel. Gridstream MDUS forms the basis for all these services by providing the vital link between the energy measurement device and utilities customer relationship management systems. By optimising energy data management, Gridstreams MDUS allows utilities to build a direct and long-lasting relationship with their customers.

Flexibility and scalability

Data storage and data management are key potential problem areas in any smart metering implementation. In simplified terms, smart-metering data collection can generate approximately 40,000 times more data than current manual data collection methods. For example, let us assume that a residential property has an electromechanical electricity meter, and that the local utility company is able to physically read the meter once a year by sending an employee out to the property to find and then read the meter's consumption dial.

Let us now assume that the same property is equipped with an electronic 'smart meter' that is able to communicate directly with the utility company's central data processing office. Such meters are capable of automatically collecting a meter reading every 15 minutes, all day every day. It is this high granularity of information that unlocks the potential for more focused, time-of-use billing tariffs, and makes it possible to be more sophisticated in the way a utility understands its customers' energy usage behaviour. Taking the example, in a year the smart metering system will collect approximately 40,000 readings compared to the single reading in a conventional system (in other words 100 readings a day for a year). That is a vast amount of data, especially when a utility may wish to collect data with this level of detail from hundreds of thousands or even millions of properties.

Supporting an open environment

Most new and emerging metering and communication technologies meet the national and international standards developed by the power industry and thereby aid the growth of new markets and reduce investment risks for utilities, allowing them to buy different products from different manufacturers.

The requirement for interoperability and openness is increasingly important for utilities. In a changing environment with competing technologies and a growing number of competing suppliers, the investment risk associated with single-supplier solutions can be unacceptably large.

The alternative is to ensure that systems interoperate, so that a utility is free to combine solutions from a number of suppliers.

Landis+Gyr is promoting smart metering industry interoperability at all levels, from the meter up to system software. Gridstream MDUS uses standard IEC-61968-9 messages to communicate between metering systems, storage elements and meter data processing elements.

The use of this industry standard format allows utilities to integrate different Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) applications, and form the basis for communication with Landis+Gyr AMM systems and those from other vendors.

The future is smart

As the world moves toward an increasing focus on renewable energy, home automation and plug in electrical vehicles, utilities are looking at how to deploy smarter technology to interact with these new resources.

The future Smart Grid will transform the current 'one way' infrastructure to a multi-directional, multi-functional, dynamic system, which balances central and decentralised generation, and creates real time transparency for all stakeholders as the basis for a stable and sustainable use of energy.

By providing interoperability, scalability and data transparency, Landis+Gyr's Gridstream MDUS is designed to enable the Smart Grid and the future of energy management.

Landis+Gyr is based in Zug, Switzerland.