Arc Innovations' Orion Project has¬†rolled out an end-to-end AMI platform to Meridian Energy's customers in Canterbury. Approximately 80 percent of its customers reside in urban locations. The remaining 20 percent are rural. Pictured below is a map that shows the spread of about 85,000 deployed AMI meters.
The Orion Project and its AMI communications requirements
The key business requirements that had to be met in providing an AMI communication network for the Orion Project included:
- Two-way communications for rich meter services
- Confidence to support a long-life contract (15+ years)
- Achieving 100 percent coverage
- Mature, proven technology
- Balancing of performance, low capital and operational costs, reliability, meeting future needs.
The AMI communications options
Arc Innovations' options for AMI communications included power line carrier (PLC), broadband over power lines (BPL), WiFi, WiMax, cellular (GPRS), RF mesh, and satellite.
A mix of GPRS, RF mesh, and satellite had already been proven in the largely rural Central Hawke's Bay pilot project in New Zealand's North Island, across approximately 5000 Meridian Energy customer sites.
Why RF mesh was chosen for primary AMI communications
RF mesh was the best fit for the predominantly urban nature of the Orion Project, and as it most closely met Meridian Energy's business requirements for both delivery and service.
- Proven AMI communications technology
- Mesh resilience, especially at the meter level (If a meter point in the mesh goes out of service the mesh can self-heal by re-routing traffic)
- Geographically extensible into rural areas for high levels of customer coverage
- Low capital expenditure.
- Robust contract life
- Able to be easily adapted in the field (e.g. relocating or adding network routers for metering growth)
- Low operating costs
- Has the effective band width to support future AMI services
- No dependency on third party network providers (e.g. end-of-life issues with GPRS, potentially requiring a modern upgrade in the deployed meters).
What the RF mesh deployment looks like today
The RF mesh router network, as pictured above, consists of 181 RF mesh routers on electricity distribution poles and light poles. These route meters read data and event log information from the meters to the AMI back office. They also command and configure data from the AMI back office out to the meters.
The network traffic to and from the RF mesh meter sites is load balanced across the 181 routers. Of the 181 routers, 18 are take out points, meaning they can backhaul data to the AMI back office, whereas the other routers channel data to the take out points. The estimated final AMI communications mix will be 85% urban RF mesh, 9.5% GPRS, 5% rural RF mesh and 0.5% satellite.
What it took to deploy the RF mesh network
- Very detailed advance planning including:
- CBD, multi dwelling units, rural areas
- GPS mapping of all meter sites and poles
- Integrated deployment planning of RF network, retailer read rounds and customer communications.
- A variety of product and antennae configurations.
- Comprehensive compliance planning
- NZ Ministry of Economic Development for general user radio licence (unlicensed frequency)
- Christchurch City Council, Resource Management Act, and property owner approval (where applicable) consent by site. Sites were approved in batches and took 3 months initially, but down to 1 month with streamlining. Also required were electromagnetic radiation compliance reports
- Approval by Christchurch City Council and Orion distribution network to pole mount RF equipment.
- The routers are installed by certified network contractors taking about a half day per team to do an installation. They take GPS coordinates and perform RF connectivity tests and install 2-4 weeks ahead of the meter deployment.
- The meters are installed by more than 80 certified electricians who also take GPS coordinates and RF connectivity readings. All installation workflow is performed via PDA. On site antennae upgrades are performed where necessary.
- The RF mesh network of routers and meters is managed through a network monitoring system which is interfaced with the AMI back office. All network points and AMI services are managed under a service level agreement.
How the primary stakeholders are impacted
- Significant process, system, information, and staff role changes
- New AMI customer services, issues and interfaces, e.g. Web portal
- New AMI business model.
Electricity distribution network company
- New methods of load control
- AMI metering platform and new skills needed for its maintenance
- Intelligent grid opportunities.
- Improved AMI services and opportunities for electricity consumption management
- Possible installation impacts.
The top five challenges we had to overcome
- Managing the realities found in the field (of the first Australasian AMI deployments) against the business cases
- Gearing up to achieve 100 percent communications coverage
- Rolling out the AMI platform, getting it to work, and meeting project timelines/budgets
- Managing data across the AMI platform to meet service level agreements
- Building a stakeholder structure that could manage: intellectual capital within Arc Innovations, retailer change management, distribution network company change management, customer change management, and the installation contractors.