Smart meters are often thought about in terms of more accurate billing, outage detection via “last gasp” alerts, and as a knowledge source for marketing segmentation and customer service and support. But they also are proving to play a leading role in more accurate and predictive distribution planning and asset management.
Consider the scenario of a utility that can only estimate how heavily loaded a distribution transformer is and when it might fail. This estimate is based on the average load profiles of similar transformers; the vendor rating for the transformer; its time in service; a list of connected customers—which may or may not be correct—and their monthly energy usage; plus occasional readings from on-site maximum current meters which the inspector may or may not remember to reset after reading.
Smart meters can improve the predictive accuracy of transformer utilization by making it possible for the distribution planner to know how much energy is flowing through the transformer at any given time. The near real-time quality of this information serves to create a more accurate load profile based on measured data, rather than estimates.
Data analysis is conducted on a combination of the smart meter data and the specific transformer information to calculate a graphical display that reflects not only load, but also figures in the age of the equipment and severity of use. By factoring in the lifespan predictions for the transformer at various load levels, a more accurate portrayal of asset utilization enables the planner to make adjustments in the distribution system for load factors, or to schedule preventative maintenance or replacement.
Smart meters improve the connectivity between customers and transformers to help utilities develop more accurate maps of all the customers connected to a specific transformer. This information can then be used to update the Geographical Information System (GIS), Outage Management System (OMS) and other applications that could benefit from improved transformer-to-customer relationship data.
Using smart meters to better inform utilities about transformer utilization can provide a number of benefits, including:
- Reducing unplanned outages by better predicting when maintenance or replacement of transformers is appropriate—especially prior to seasonal demands.
- Improving decisions about when to shift customers from one transformer to another to balance loads.
- Understanding how well a transformer can accommodate load growth.
- Installing the right size transformer when replacement time comes, given the load it carries.
- Assessing whether or not transformers live up to their vendor specifications.
With asset optimization and management a top priority for utility and distribution planners, it only makes sense to integrate smart meter data to improve the information used to make smarter decisions based on measured data—rather than continue to rely upon estimates and assumptions used in the past. The data is here, the time to use it to advantage is now.