Horizon Power’s rollout of more than 47,000 advanced meters in Western Australia will provide enough data to help reduce network costs and improve billing, as well as provide a platform to incorporate renewables into microgrids and potentially allow customers to trade energy.

Completed in October 2016, Horizon’s advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) project won the Best Value AMI award at the Australian Utility Week conference in Sydney.

The industry’s recognition of this project highlights its innovative approach to new metering infrastructure and the potential benefits these meters can have across regional and remote Western Australia.

“We can now provide our customers with the latest in metering technology to improve their billing experience and reduce our operating costs and thereby cut our subsidy from government,” said Horizon Power Managing Director, Frank Tudor.

“The meters provide a myriad of potential opportunities and an exciting platform from which we can achieve our vision of a microgrid future with much higher levels of renewable energy incorporated than currently exists.”

The State Government provided Horizon Power with $34 million for the project, which saw the new advanced meters installed over 2.3 million square kilometres. The meters can collect readings at 15 minute intervals, as well as information on alerts and alarms such as tamper alerts or a meter that’s running at high voltage.

These frequent readings mean customers can receive more accurate billing instead of estimates, electricity can be reconnected or disconnected more quickly if there is a change of address, and faults are able to be identified faster because Horizon can see if the problem is on the customer’s side or in the network.

The advanced metering project has also saved more than $7 million a year in business costs due to the new meters no longer needing to be physically read as well as the automation of other processes, including reconnection and disconnection.

Incorporating renewables into microgrids

17483-2286Geoff White, Manager Customer Services at Horizon Power, said the metering project also had the potential to impact the wider network and the way renewables were used.

“It provides the platform to incorporate greater use of renewable energy onto our microgrids, which currently have hosting capacity targets due to the small size of most of the systems and their inability to accept unlimited amounts of exported renewable energy,” Mr White said.

“The AMI infrastructure will allow Horizon Power to manage additional renewable energy exported to the system. We hope to be able to announce increased renewable capacity within six months.

“With the detailed information gathered from meters we also expect to be able to better manage renewables (particularly solar PV) so that we can increase the penetration of renewables without reducing increasing the risk of outages.”

Assessing peak and off-peak usage

The data collected by the advanced meters is also expected to be used to create more tailored energy efficiency advice, by identifying usage patterns and peaks, helping the design of price models and minimising the risk of outages.

While the government determines pricing policy for the state, Horizon has launched a research pilot where 500 participants in Port Hedland use a new pricing app with the results used to develop a new way of charging for electricity with on-peak and off-peak pricing.

“The major cost of providing electricity is in the cost of generating power, particularly the last five per cent of power or the peak. The information the meters collect will allow Horizon Power to understand how and when electricity is used and will enable us to design customer solutions (different price models e.g. the Port Hedland trial, based on rewards for reducing peak energy usage) and less expensive electrical networks,” Mr White said.

“We also expect we can delay or avoid spending millions of dollars on new generation to meet peaks as power consumption in a town increases. This AMI data enables us to understand for example the load on our electrical network and better manage this to avoid outages.

“It also will help us to reduce our spending on transformers as we will know exactly the load on these pieces of expensive equipment because they are now individually metered and the information is send back to Horizon Power on 15 minute intervals.”

Future energy trading

_z4a9130Horizon Power is currently investigating how the advanced metering infrastructure project can also provide a platform for its customers to sell energy to each other. The meters give customers more control over their electricity than ever before, with data helping them reduce electricity costs by using less power during peak times.

“Horizon Power has a world-class natural endowment of 40 remote microgrids – isolated power systems which are the enabling platforms that underpin this revolution in energy access.

“One day, potentially, customers will be able to sell excess energy from rooftop PV to a neighbour via the energy-trading mechanism,” Mr White said.

Managing the increase and safety of ami data

With the data now available from the meters, one of the challenges facing Horizon Power is being able to maximise its value by working out what data is required for what purpose.

To do this, Horizon is partnering with tertiary institutions to assist in the development of analytic tools, as well as investing in database and storage technologies to support the projected increases in data volumes.

There will also be regular assessments relating to the privacy of the data to ensure it’s kept safe.

“We recognise the value and opportunities created by data and are investigating cloud platforms that will allow for rapid scaling up of compute resources and environments to prove a particular use without affecting operational activities,” Mr White said.

“The privacy of customer and metering data is of course paramount. We have not only a moral but also a legislated requirement to ensure the privacy of customer data, which of course includes metering data at a customer’s premise.

“To this end, Horizon Power regularly assesses the risk profile of data privacy both from a process and technology perspective and continue to place a high value on maintaining the confidentiality, integrity and availability of all the data we collect.

“All Horizon Power data is stored securely, and processes are continually assessed for potential risks, and where appropriate, additional security controls are put in place to mitigate these risks.”

Continual use of big data

Horizon Power employees Sam Lovell and Terry Shadforth.

Horizon Power employees Sam Lovell and Terry Shadforth.

Horizon Power is now the only vertically integrated utility in Australia that has advanced meters across its entire network area. Mr White said the utility was also keeping an eye on current trends in cloud storage and cognitive technologies to support the AIM project and its data use in the future.

“We recognise that there are significant changes occurring within the energy utility industry and that AMI, big data and cognitive technology solutions are at the forefront of this. We have not yet determined which vendor solutions are the best fit, but we are exploring various technology offerings,” Mr White said. 

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