The power distribution scenario is changing world over. Greater integration of renewable energy, growth of rooftop solar and the demand for electric vehicle charging are leading to larger variation and unpredictability in the net power demand curve. Management of the demand curve is the biggest concern and challenge for utilities. Further, with a higher level of consumer engagement, meeting the expectations of consumers and other stakeholders is becoming a big challenge.
With this changing scenario, utilities’ objectives are also changing. To address these issues, concerns and expectations, utilities are opting for smart grid technology, with smart metering as one of its key components.
Need for smart metering validation
Smart metering is one of the most desirable technologies for utilities and most of them are going for largescale implementation. It is important to note that smart metering is a tool, not a solution and it is also an integrated system, not a stand-alone product.
A smart metering system is different from a stand-alone static energy meter. As an integrated system, the validation of a smart metering system is not merely testing of the meter alone, but is far more than that. Meters and other components of a smart metering system can experience conditions not covered in the standard. While compliance with a standard can assure a product’s normal working in defined conditions, the product should be checked in conditions that may be experienced in the field. The validation engineer has to imagine the extreme scenario, based on field experience and plan the validation process accordingly.
The limit when a meter/system can malfunction or fail should be identified. This will help understand the limitation of the system and compare different product offerings.
There are high stakes on metering systems for utilities. Validation should be planned, taking this aspect into consideration. An error in a bill can be a headline in the next day’s newspaper. Cyber- and data security are equally critical and should be part of the validation.
Validation is one of the most critical aspects to ensure the success of a smart metering project. It should cover all aspects of the system. Any malfunctioning or undesirable behaviour in an integrated system or any lack of features, when found at a later date, may be too costly to rectify.
Role of smart apps
Smartphones are popular as they are frequently used and their popularity can be traced to “smart apps”, which bring benefits to users. Similarly, in order to leverage the maximum benefit from a smart metering system, smart apps are needed to carry out various functions. Thus, it is equally critical to validate smart apps.
Planning smart metering system validation
For planning and preparation of the validation process, four questions should be asked:
- What should be validated? Validation is a process to ensure proper functioning of the system to meet its objectives without failure or malfunctioning in any field condition and to ensure return on investment and no regrets about the technology.
- How should validation be done? A series of steps are recommended, starting with understanding both short-term and long-term objectives of the project. The first step is to define the process and strategy as to how the technology will be used to address the objectives. This mainly covers the data required and its frequency, logics for events, alerts, etc., processing, analysis and storage of data, and then inferring and planning actions.
- Who should do the validation? Validation should be done in partnership with others such as vendors, independent test labs and other utilities. As the utility holds the biggest stake, the involvement of the utility engineer is a must.
- What is the initial preparation required? Three basic preparations are recommended – manpower training, test set-up and interpretation of validation results.
Validation of smart meters
Validation should be done by both the meter company and the utility.
Basic knowledge helps in the measurement methodology, how measurements are done, meter standard, influence parameters and basic meter architecture.
Meter tampering is nothing but exposing the meter to certain abnormal conditions and basic knowledge about theft science helps to understand the methodology.
Validation against “theft methodology” is done for system immunity, logging and impact.
Malfunctioning under extreme conditions is expected. The key is whether these can be detected or not and the impact on the basic operations of utilities.
Smart metering system validation is a specialised job and should be carried out before mass installation. The utility should have a dedicated team and the team should be well trained. The required resources should be allocated for the same.
To prepare an effective validation process, basic knowledge about meters is a must, along with the study of abnormal behaviour as observed by utilities and knowledge of how to use data to meet objectives. It is better to prepare a validation roadmap for the smart metering system, detailing a set of validation tests, test methodology and the data collection chart and process.