Counties Power

Smart Meter Deployment Project

Counties Power Smart Meter Deployment Project

Counties Power completed the deployment of 40,000 advanced meters and a supporting communications network on time, 10 per cent under budget and with zero injuries to the staff and contractors involved.

The project, commenced in September 2013 and completed earlier this year, makes the region one of the most ‘wired up’ in the country. The Silver Spring Networks radio mesh Counties Power installed covers 99.99 per cent of the company’s patch.

Key factors that contributed to that result were: effective engagement with Vircom EMS for meter installation; selection of a proven technology; reliability and uptime of the Metrix data head-end; efficient installation planning and continuity; close back-of-house support from the Counties Power IT team; and the benefit of a strong New Zealand dollar.

SmartCo group – of which Counties Power is a shareholder - identified Silver Spring and Landis + Gyr meters as best in class technology.

Driven by relatively tight timeframes associated with meter compliance and market opportunity, Counties Power opted to manage its own roll-out.

It engaged Metrix to provide ‘head end’ and data management services for the meter network. This proved a cost effective way to deploy quickly and ensure a seamless transition for energy retailers in the region.

Counties Power selected Silver Spring 802.15xx technology. Research showed that cellular-based metering would not provide sufficient coverage given the area’s geography and some of the remote locations that had to be served.

That decision required consenting and installation of 215 pole-mounted radio transmitters – comprising 22 access points and 193 relays. About 50,000 legacy meters also had to be replaced, and any repairs carried out to ensure electrical compliance.

Contractors engaged in metering deployment were required to follow rigid procedures focused on risk identification, hazard control and minimising customer disruption. Training involved live auditing. Random audits were also carried out post-installation.

A public relations campaign was designed to help minimise customer inconvenience. An education programme, including local print media and direct mail-outs, was used to inform households. A specific customer liaison role was also established to handle all customer communications.

Based on similar projects locally and overseas, Counties Power aimed to keep complaints at less than 5 per cent of the number of meters deployed monthly. By the end of the programme only 81 complaints – 0.2 per cent - were lodged concerning installations.

The meter deployment is not unique in the industry, but Counties Power says it was one of the first distributors in New Zealand to achieve a single smart meter system for both revenue metering and network services. 

The company has now developed a number of simple, in-house tools and applications to utilise the data the new meters provide. Staff can now proactively identify faults or use the data to support planning and programming decisions.

Other analytics in place include voltage heat maps, distributed generation output levels and neutral damage identification. These allow real-time action to be undertaken on network issues. Automatic data collection has also reduced error rates.

The radio mesh network lets Counties Power undertake other conventional network activities such as distribution automation, and telemetry of network equipment. It is also a platform for engaging with other service providers who may wish to provide meter-to-meter communications, sensor analytics and connected computing in the region.

The Energy Project of the Year award category is sponsored by UGL