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Central Electric Membership Corporation Integrates AMI and OMS Systems to Improve Outage Response Time

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  • Jul 19, 2019 7:30 pm GMT

Central Electric Membership Corporation was recently awarded an Expanding Excellence Award in the Best Analytics Project category by CS Week. The award recognized a project that involved integrating the company’s automated meter infrastructure (AMI) and outage management system (OMS) to create an updated system that would take advantage of smart meters and increase response efficiencies to better serve members. The new system has been highly successful, resulting in the company’s system average interruption duration index (SAIDI) value rising by over 80 percent within four years.

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Replacing an Aging System

Angela Hare, VP of Customer Service, Information Technology, and Metering at Central Electric explains the impetus to complete this project: “The OMS we’d had for 12 years worked well, but only if all our members were calling in to let us know about outages. To ensure all outages were repaired, we had to spend hours calling members back, which made for an imperfect scenario in which some members got left out, requiring additional service calls.”

Knowing they needed to upgrade the system to include advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), Hare and her team carefully selected a metering vendor whose technology was compatible with the company’s existing Milsoft OMS system. Central Electric started the installation of Gridstream smart meters from Landis+Gyr in parts of its service area in 2012. At this point, the company also began integrating the AMI with the OMS. The meter installation and the integration were both completed in 2015. Hare notes, “It was a low-cost solution for us to move the data and set up a firewall after Landis+Gyr provided the necessary foundation.”

There were no technical challenges with the integration, and it was ready to go immediately upon completion. However, states Hare, “it took a little while to trust it. Initially, we were afraid of false positives, and dispatchers always asked linemen to check and make sure before performing any maintenance. Now we just assume the readings are accurate.”

Big Benefits

The new system offered big benefits. For one thing, in the past, member calls provided a general idea of where and when outages occurred, but the information provided by meters is much more exact. Hare explains, “Members didn’t always call right when the outage happened. With the meters, we know within 90 seconds.” Central Electric can now respond much more efficiently; as a result, the company’s SAIDI value has significantly increased, from 327.53 in 2013 (prior to the AMI installation) to 180.77 in 2017.

Hare recalls one member whose power went out while she was on vacation; Central Electric was able to quickly determine the outage and repair it before she returned. The member ended up writing a letter to the company about what this service meant to her, including not having to come home to a freezer full of spoiled food.

An additional benefit is that meter tampering can be detected immediately. Hare observes, “We now have a living, breathing system, so when anyone pulls that meter, we see it live in front of us.” This immediacy has also led to Central Electric knowing about house fires before firefighters.

A Test of Two Hurricanes

The first hurricane to test the new system was Matthew in 2016. The new OMS has internet-enabled collectors that call information back to Central Electric. Hare recalls, “We found out we needed a backup for those internet connections. When Hurricane Matthew hit, the connections failed, and we were left blind. After that, we started backing up with cellular as well as secondary DSL circuits.” When Hurricane Florence hit in 2018, there were no problems with losing those connections. “We learned a lot from Matthew,” says Hare, “and by the time Florence hit we were in a good place.”

How has your utility integrated smart meters into its OMS? Please share in the comments.

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