How electricity companies are managing the massive deployment of smart meter devices

This article was published on Bspreview magazine. Download a pdf version of this article.

Electricity companies are currently working toward a significant goal: the remote management and reading of all electric meters by the end of 2018, as mandated by European legislation. This task was previously carried out manually, requiring more time and manpower and using devices that were dispersed and difficult to identify. Now, control and management in real time are becoming a reality.  

All of Europe’s electric distribution companies, including Endesa, are required under the new legislation to establish 100% remote management of their residential electric meters by the end of 2018. By that date, Endesa will need to remotely manage its more than 400,000 access points that service approximately 14 million smart meters. It’s a task that the company has been working on for more than seven years, using an enormous amount of human and economic resources to manage the system’s deployment and operation.

A large number of dispersed devices

The electricity company needed to address its large quantity of widely dispersed devices, including meters and communication devices, across all of Spain. There wasn’t precise information available on the devices used in the field, as they lacked identifiers. To make things more difficult, they didn’t know which SIM cards they needed to insert in which devices. The SIM cards were meant to link each device with the operator that managed communication, in case maintenance would be needed in the future.

Now, Endesa is in the process of launching its remote management and metering system, with an infrastructure that is being managed through an internal project known as Atlas. Unsurprisingly, the system is complex, due in part to the many different manufacturers that make the electric meters, as well as different technologies, protocols, networks and systems, both internal and external. Above all, it’s a solution that must be implemented on a massive scale.

The success of a project of this size requires a great deal of planning, engineering and selection of the best tools for optimizing—in terms of both time and cost—the life cycle of hundreds of thousands of devices and their supply, deployment and maintenance.

An integrated solution for a complex system

The project’s complexity demands a solution that allows for the standardization of three components:
Communications: networks and systems of communications operators in Spain and South America, in order to control errors due to supply, fraud, lost SIM cards, etc.;
Devices: different types of devices, such as routers, counters, hubs, and modems, all integrated in the most transparent way possible.
Manufacturers: the solution consists of various types of devices with different protocols and manufacturers, which, without proper management, can make a standardized inventory difficult to achieve.

This challenge is especially pronounced considering the need to minimize operating costs while also ensuring that the system can support massive deployment. The system’s tasks include the autonomous detection of failure points in order to avoid false alarms and misdiagnosis that could cause unnecessary employee travel to the remote locations of the devices.

In order to meet these needs, Endesa has created the Atlas platform, based on the OpenGate product from the Spanish company Amplía Soluciones. OpenGate is a key element in the life cycle of Endesa’s measurement devices due to the unique capabilities it provides:

● It centralizes the supply of the more than 500 devices being installed daily in the field;
● It avoids the unnecessary deployment of contract operators to meters and network hubs in the field, thanks to remote access that allows operators to check the operational status of each device;
● It performs remote checks on the condition of the devices and their configuration through automated diagnostics using parameters such as connectivity, whether it’s switched on or off and whether it can produce malfunctions, among others;
● The device inventory is updated in real time, together with the its link to elements such as the operator’s SIM card or the meter performing the measurement. This measurement is extremely useful, as the electricity company can extract information about how well operators are functioning with the devices that are active in the field.

Standardizing devices

OpenGate, a device management platform designed for this type of industrial environment, has implemented various connectors for all the devices from Endesa’s different manufacturers, creating a unified management procedure and completely standardizing the management system with the internal business processes involved in the life cycle: the supply, deployment, monitoring and operation processes of the infrastructure, including large ERP and CRM systems as well as monitoring systems.

Automatic device commissioning

One typical case is the process of implementing a new remote metering device and its communication infrastructure. Before leaving the location of the new smart meter, a remote diagnostic process is carried out that tests whether the device can be reached by the metering systems, as well as the device’s configuration and capacity to measure consumption correctly by obtaining the corresponding load curve.

From the moment that an installer puts a new access point into operation, communication is made to the system in order to provide all of the internal information from each smart meter device, from the model to the firmware version.

At this moment, the platform is responsible for checking the connectivity level and location, as well as the purpose and condition of the device. Based on this data and the information contained in the business’s systems, the device is configured and automatically updated.

Finally, the installer and the order management system are updated on the successful installment of the device. All of this takes place in just a few seconds and is completely automated.

Endesa’s Achievements

The implementation of this solution has marked a turning point for Endesa; the company now has complete control over all its devices throughout their life cycle, from initial deployment to retirement. Now, registering a device takes just a few seconds. Employees can deploy more devices in less time and respond to incidents by creating alerts and alarms within the platform for certain situations.

The final result has been an 80% reduction in time and costs associated with field deployments, including savings in costs from travel related to infrastructure maintenance. Also, almost all inventory and configuration errors have been eliminated, increasing the levels of service quality and productivity.

With this device management solution, Endesa has reduced operational and maintenance costs and enhanced its team’s efficiency and productivity.

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