Five or maybe even 10 years ago, as a distribution network operators (DNOs) you decided to launch a rollout of smart meters across your electricity distribution network, to improve the operation of your network or meet regulatory obligations. The project was more difficult than expected and took longer than planned. By the end, the business case had been put to one side and the initial objectives lost, as your focus turned to managing the complexity of the deployment.

If that story sounds familiar, you’re not alone. Many DNOs around the world are wondering what future value they can get from their previous advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) investments.

The good news is that the future value—given the appropriate actions—is potentially significant. However, realizing this value requires reimagining and resetting the vision of the digitally enabled DNO and seizing opportunities that didn’t exist when AMI deployments were first launched.

To recognize these opportunities, you first need to understand the challenges that have emerged for DNOs in the past few years, and which are set to escalate in the next few years as electricity generation and demand undergo further transformation.

And the challenges are numerous. They include the mass take-up of electric vehicles. The growth of distributed generation—including residential rooftop solar—feeding into the grid. The rising share of generation accounted for by renewables, increasing the risk of grid instability. And the changing expectations of consumers, demanding instant responses and services on demand.

However, looked at through the lens of a digital, AMI-enabled network, these challenges become addressable. For example, take the risk of grid instability. To manage, predict and balance pressures on the grid, sensors need to be implemented at the edge of the network to collect and communicate the relevant data. That network of sensors is precisely what AMI has delivered.

The result is an amazing amount of granular data—meaning that while distribution at the low-voltage level used to be “dark,” now you can light it up. At the time of initial AMI deployments, the assumption was that this data might be useful for things like customer billing and prepayments. Now its usability has escalated to the level of managing network operations.

Changes in customers’ attitudes and behavior are also driving up the value of AMI data. In an on-demand world, customers won’t write a letter to ask to connect rooftop solar. They’ll contact their provider via digital channels, in the expectation of an instant response followed by connectivity within days. Online analytics on energy-usage patterns, based on smart metering data, can be used to model the impact of solar on the network, enabling faster risk assessments of any network impact and more timely responses to customer requests.

At the same time, energy retailers are also looking to leverage the value of smart metering data as they transform their products and services, personalizing their offerings in the digital age. The provision of this data could become another potential revenue stream for DNOs, enabling them to position themselves at the heart of the energy ecosystem.

Overall, the message is clear. DNOs looking to get full value from past smart metering investments should seek out and exploit new and untapped areas of benefit across areas ranging from grid optimization to customer interactions.

Many real-world use cases are already emerging. An example at a fairly basic operational level is outage management on the grid: DNOs could dramatically accelerate outage restoration by using smart metering data to pinpoint the location of a fault, dispatch field crews, notify customers and check the status of all devices afterwards.

A level up from this is better demand-response management. For example, smart meter data can be used to help manage and meet peak demand loads more effectively, by using real-time communication to increase customers’ participation and drive changes to their consumption patterns. All categories of customer can now be influenced to help optimize demand management by altering their consumption, not just the current subset of high energy users.

These are just a few of the opportunities and benefits that may have been lower priorities five years ago—but which DNOs with AMI networks installed should now be seeking out. By doing so, they’ll position themselves to deliver the full value from their smart metering investments and improve their ability to manage the energy transformation that’s now underway.

Rick Hanks

Smart Metering Specialist - Accenture Utilities

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