Arc Innovations, a business unit of Meridian Energy, is at the forefront of smart metering services in New Zealand and has installed 130,000 smart meters in homes and businesses throughout Canterbury and Hawkes Bay, creating one of the largest smart meter networks in Australasia.
The AMI - advanced metering infrastructure - platform is comprised of smart meters, communications networks and back office systems that measure, collect and analyse electricity usage data, either on schedule or request.
The primary communications network is radio frequency mesh, but Vodafone's GPRS network and the Orbcomm satellite service is also used. Together, these networks provide a two-way wireless communication system that offers enhanced reliability and up to 100 per cent cover geographically. The radio frequency mesh network has a "self healing" capability so that if one data pathway is unavailable it reorganises itself to find the next best alternative.
Arc uses its smart metering technology in two key innovative ways - firstly to provide innovative services for electricity retailers and consumers and secondly in providing support to the earthquake recovery effort in Christchurch.
Service to retailers
Customers, including those in the small- to medium-business sector, will be able to benefit by being able to better understand the options available to them to save money on their power bill. Arc works with select customer interface partners to create tools to allow smart meter customers to review their electricity consumption on any computing or smart phone platform. They can then make more informed choices based on recommendations about how to improve the efficiency of their power use.
Arc is also aiding electricity retailers by identifying unaccounted for energy (UFE) losses, which can occur on high power-use sites. Arc has created a warning system that recognises there has been a phase failure and arranges for a site visit to ensure the site has not been compromised. The issue can then be resolved, restoring measurement services.
Arc has also created a bi-directional smart metering service which measures micro-generation for what is a growing customer segment.
Another of Arc's innovations is a service to remotely disconnect and reconnect power to a property. Arc has developed this service to be not only efficient and reliable, but also safe. Currently provided to Meridian Energy and Contact Energy, this service allows a property to be remotely disconnected for reasons of credit default, vacancy or emergency - such as the Christchurch earthquakes.
Arc Innovations' AMI system was invaluable following the September 2010 and February 2011 earthquakes, which resulted in extensive power outages across Christchurch.
Using its advanced technologies, Arc was able to provide lines companies with real-time information about which individual houses were experiencing power outages and which houses were deemed vacant as a result of the earthquakes.
The technology was also a valuable tool for switching hot water back on in the suburbs. When power lines were down, many of the ripple switches used by lines companies to control hot water cylinders were in an off state. Usually to switch these back on manually would be expensive and time- consuming. However, with Arc's AMI solution, the hot water could be turned back on remotely and staggered over a 12-hour period so as not to overload the fragile network.
Arc's smart meters were also important in providing detailed information highlighting high electricity use during times of network stress. Those customers could then be contacted to request a curb in use of non-necessary appliances to protect the fragile network.
Smart meters were also used to aid in the risk assessment of earthquake affected areas carried out by the police and fire services, who used the information provided by Arc systems to determine the likelihood of occupancy.
In 2011 the Innovation in Electricity Award category was sponsored by Gentrack.