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by Aaron Baker, Gentrack General Manager Smart World Solutions

While utilities may still be waking up to the reality of optimising the value of ‘Big Data’ from smart metering networks, the large metering technology players know that their metering and communications infrastructures are only one element of an entire smart grid. It’s what you do with that metering data that is the really smart stuff.

Many utilities tell me that they are already managing their meter data in an existing data warehouse. Or that third party meter owners are already providing them with aggregated data for retail billing processes. This is smart enough for what they need now, but what more can a specialist Meter Data Management (MDM) tool offer to these utilities?

Scalability for one.

Sure, that data warehouse is handling the data from a few pilot projects just fine. But will it stand up to a flood of data from a million plus meter registers, and how will it validate millions of half hourly reads? And how easy is it to quickly aggregate and extract that data for ‘real time’ or near ‘real time’ billing and in home display purposes?

And, of course, that aggregated billing specific data may not be enough in itself to enable a truly smart network.

Integrating MDM and CRM

Utilities can leverage the value of integrating meter and customer data to understand customer behaviour before engaging with a range of bundled products and services with associated savings and incentives. What customer wouldn’t want that?

Ultimately any utility, be it a retailer or distributor, should be thinking about how to unlock the potential of the data throughout their organisation.

Power theft detection and better outage management needs real-time analysis of consumption at end points, against metering data at transformer level. Smooth curves from aggregation can often hide more obscure peaks and variations that signal something is up in the network. Peak load times may also change with the arrival of distributed generation and growth in electric vehicle (EV) recharging – peaks that might not be picked up by tracking and aggregating historic peak slots only. This is all of growing relevance for network companies trying to more accurately balance network load.

Retailers who use an MDM system are better able to take control of their customers’ meter data and the business rules that aggregate it. Ensuring those rules meet both regulatory requirements and their own business priorities makes legal, operational and marketing sense.

But investing in your own MDM system also makes a lot of financial sense.

I like to think of MDM as a double buffer between a range of advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) technologies and the back office systems that could use that data. We already know MDM is a data buffer, but as new standards evolve and new metering and communication technologies emerge, a configurable MDM system also becomes a financial buffer. It removes the need for otherwise expensive and time consuming rework that would be required if point-to-point interfaces had been developed.

So, should you opt for an MDM system from your metering vendor? After all, it’s often bundled as part of the overall business plan for an AMI deployment.

Not necessarily.

Waiting until you negotiate a full residential metering deployment contract before considering the value of MDM has its drawbacks. Putting in an MDM system before AMI gives a better audit trail of actual usage before smart meters and basic time of use-based billing is implemented for residential customers, which can help to counter the chorus of smart meter dissenters. Staff will also be confident with new processes and technology, and better able to handle the initial deluge of call centre queries resulting from AMI deployment.

And not all MDM technology is equal. A vendor’s metering technology may be proven but what’s the underlying DNA for its MDM solution? How flexible is its business logic and file formatting? Is it truly proven at high volumes and at what hardware cost?

Will there also be a cost with vendor lock in? With the energy and water markets in continual flux, an MDM system should be open enough to handle data from any smart meter technology.

Meter data management software is a specialised tool that, when integrated with CRM, will help utilities to optimise the returns from a smart grid deployment. Make sure the MDM software vendor you engage has the specialist staff to implement it, and ensure that the right level of planning around interval data optimisation is undertaken to get the most from your MDM investment.

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