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Tapping Technology At the Electric Co-op

Posted by:  on Jan 03, 2012

At CFC’s recent Independent Borrower’s Conference, a panel of three electric co-op managers talked about their organizations’ experience adopting and using new technology, from smart meters, to iPads to Facebook.

The managers, from Pennsylvania, Oklahoma and Ohio, were clear…technology adoption is in a fast and furious mode, unlike any time in the utility industry’s history.

A newcomer to the utility industry would point to the influence of the smart grid, and there’s some of that. But the fact is that utilities have always looked for new ways to improve service, reliability and efficiency. It just so happens that we’re at a time when new tech tools available are offering the utility industry new and exciting options.

Leading this tech revolution are three main drivers: the democratization of the Web — the ability to get information about anything, with this bounty of information is delivered by some spiffy information delivery hardware; and both are in lock step with development of the smart grid.

Central to this utility information renaissance is the smart meter.

At the dawning of the smart meter era more than 10 years ago, co-op managers and staff were intrigued by the automated meter reading technology (AMR). Try as they might, many couldn’t justify the cost for these first-generation AMR systems based solely on one benefit — meter reading. At that time, one manager from South Carolina said, “It costs me a dollar to read a meter. It would take me more than 10 years to cost justify a $125 AMR device.”

What happened with AMR is what happens to all worthy technology. It got better. Now called advanced meter infrastructure (AMI), the cost justification formula works out better (which is not to say AMI is cheaper that AMR).

At the CFC conference, Ron Saylor of Ohio’s Pioneer Electric Cooperative, described a long list of cost-justifying smart meter benefits beyond meter readings, including:
- single outage detection
- partial power analysis
- operational outage detection
- major storm outage detection
- on-demand meter reading
- bill complaint hourly readings
- engineering analysis
- an ability to track the pesky power quality blink counter

Having AMI data has become a valuable tool for Pioneer Electric Cooperative, giving it the ability to provide higher-quality service, better outage management capabilities and the ability to do preventive maintenance.

Saylor added that compared to the benefits and the average co-op plant investment per member customer of around $4000, smart meter costs are minimal.

In my next blog, I will look at how the data from smart meters feed the beasts…field and consumer apps on tablets and smart phones.

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