Meter data simulation technology – preparing for the challenges ahead

Fiona Fulton

Fiona Fulton, Smart Metering Lead at ScottishPower Energy Networks, discusses how AMT-SYBEX meter data simulation technology can help her company predict and prepare for the challenges ahead.

It’s not hard to predict that the introduction of smart meters is going to have a huge impact on almost every aspect of the UK energy sector – but working out the precise consequences for distribution network operators (DNOs), suppliers, consumers and regulators is still a difficult task.

Nevertheless, at ScottishPower Energy Networks, we can’t afford to sit around and wait for the rollout to be complete before we decide how the business needs to adapt. We have to start planning now so that we can hit the ground running when the smart meters are deployed, and ensure that we play our part in unlocking the benefits that the whole initiative is expected to deliver.

We began thinking about how to take the first steps, and we quickly recognised that the issues surrounding the rollout fall into two categories: those that are completely within our control, and those that are driven by industry consensus. For example, although we are engaging with the government and newly licenced DCC on the definition of standards and regulations for the operational aspects of smart meters, the finer details are unlikely to be settled until 2014/2015.

What we can control are our internal systems and processes – and we know that these are areas where it’s important for us to be proactive. To engineer a new business process or procure an IT system can be a major undertaking, so we need to get started as soon as possible.

From our perspective, the biggest difference between traditional meters and smart meters is the huge quantity of real-time data that we will need to be able to process and analyse. Potentially, this data will help us identify outages, diagnose faults and take remedial action much more quickly. The challenge, though, is that as a DNO we don’t own the meters themselves, so it’s not practicable for us to conduct any large-scale trials in order to understand how this will work in practice.

This is where simulation comes in. We realised that if we could mimic the types and volumes of data that the smart meters are going to generate, we would be able to explore the possibilities and test our new systems and processes, even before a single smart meter has actually been installed on our network. We just needed to find a partner with the right technical skills and industry expertise to develop a suitable simulator.

We talked to various vendors, and AMT-SYBEX came up with the answer. They had already developed a set of testing tools for their own meter data management solution, and they realised that by extending these into something more configurable and user-friendly it would be possible to create the kind of a powerful and sophisticated meter data simulator we required.

Since then we have been working with the AMT-SYBEX team to fine-tune the solution, and we are planning to go ahead with our first full-scale simulation project shortly. We will be focusing on outages in the first instance, exploring questions such as how to aggregate and analyse messages from hundreds of smart meters in an affected area, and how to deal with worst-case scenarios, such as a large group of meters becoming defective and sending out spurious alerts.

If this first trial is successful, we plan to use the lessons learned to draw up a prioritised list of other projects which incorporate other aspects of our business. For any area of our business where meter data is going to be used, it should be possible to design a scenario with the simulator that helps us test its impact.

Ultimately, from a business perspective, meter data simulation should help ScottishPower Energy Networks get ahead of the game – ensuring that when the smart meter rollout is complete, we’re ready to make the most of it from day one. By working in partnership with AMT-SYBEX on this simulation initiative, we’re hoping to blaze a trail that other DNOs will want to follow.

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