Digitalisation of the Energy Infrastructure with the Smart Meter Operation Center

Author: Dr.-Ing. Jörg Klose

Over 1 billion smart electricity meters have already been installed worldwide and new AMI (Advanced Metering Infrastructure) solutions have been set up. IBM has developed and implement-ed solutions and procedures that have been in use for 20 years and are constantly being further developed. Generative AI promises further optimisation in the future. As the rollout in Germany progresses, we are faced with the question: What kind of Smart Meter Operation Centre do we need?

Smart Metering as an integral part of the energy infrastructure

Studies show that in order to achieve the 1.5 degree climate target, the proportion of electricity generated from renewable sources will increase by more than 100 % by 2050. New markets with new market participants and new products and services are emerging. Volatility is already increasing sharply both in the market and physically in the grid. Energy supply grids must therefore be remodelled and expanded. This applies in particular to low-voltage grids. The introduction of smart metering is one such measure. Smart metering is already in widespread use in many regions of the world, e.g. in Scandinavia and other European countries, in North America as well as in Australia, Japan, China, Taiwan and the Middle East, to name just a few examples. There is therefore a wealth of experience from which we in Germany can benefit.

Master Smart Metering use cases with Next Generation AMI (AMI 2.0)

Smart meters are part of an “Advanced Metering Infrastructure” (AMI), which also includes communication technology, head-end systems and in many cases a meter data management system.

Fig. 1: An AMI solution enables new customer and network services

The integration capability of smart meters enables remote reading and processing of consumption values (“meter-to-cash”). At the same time, the measured values can be used anonymously to provide input for a better grid control (“measure-to-control”), i.e. to balance or limit strong load fluctuations.

AMI solutions do this effectively and cost-efficiently. With “Next Generation AMI” or AMI 2.0, the individual components work together in the best possible way enabled by latest technologies, new architectural principles and compliance with international technical standards to improve operability.

The features include, among others:

  • End-to-end data security for the entire value chain.
  • Data protection (GDPR) in accordance with applicable local laws.
  • A hybrid and cloud-native AMI solution architecture to integrate enhancements more flexibly and quickly.
  • Flexible integration of partner solutions based on international standards and open APIs.
  • Timely provision of consumption values in near real time so that customers can monitor and influence their current consumption and power feed-ins in real time. Furthermore, distribution grid operators can also better manage loads in the low-voltage range in real time.
  • AI-supported workflows, particularly for clearly standard processes and analytical tasks.
  • Intuitive user (customer/employee) experience (UX) with digital assistants and systems that provide recommendations.

Practice shows: A Smart Meter Operation Centre (SMOC) is not only useful for setting up and operating AMI 2.0 solutions, it is generally even necessary.

The Smart Meter Operation Centre monitors the installation and operation of AMI components

Setting up and using a Smart Meter Operation Centre (SMOC) in parallel to setting up an AMI solution makes sense: installation, integration, commissioning and operation of the components must be well coordinated. This is extensive and can be very complex, as Fig. 2 shows. This is particularly true when many parties are involved in the set-up and operation.

Das Smart Meter Operation Center (SMOC) unterstützt ganz wesentlichen den Aufbau und den Betrieb einer AMI-Lösung

Fig. 2: The Smart Meter Operation Centre (SMOC) provides essential support for implementing, deploying and operating an AMI solution

For example, the Smart Meter Operation Centre provides support with:

  • Planning, procurement, recording, inventory management, testing and preparation of the installation of all components.
  • Monitoring the progress of the installation.
  • Permanent function monitoring of the installed components as well as monitoring and analysis of triggered events.
  • Monitoring and analysis of events triggered by the installed components.
  • Monitoring of control signals triggered by the MDMS and the HES.
  • Reporting and analysing key performance indicators to check whether contractually agreed SLAs and KPIs are being met.
  • Reporting and analyses of parameters for checking SLAs and KPIs.

The SMOC thus supports the optimisation of supply and installation chains. It ensures an optimised backlog and therefore sufficient elasticity in the event of disruptions.

The four functional areas of the Smart Meter Operation Centre

The Smart Meter Operation Centre offers four key functional areas for the introduction, deployment and operation of a smart metering infrastructure (with examples of individual functions):

Monitoring the installation processes of all smart meters and communication technology components (“deployment monitoring”)

  • Availability and number of installed AMI components.
  • Planned and actual installation performance and activation, …

Meter data operations

  • Percentage of recorded register values, load profiles and events such as alarms and warnings.
  • Proportion of successful AMI commands such as on-demand meter reading, remote switch-off/switch-on.
  • Monitoring of critical resources such as storage and battery, …

System and security operations (“System and Security Operations”)

  • Availability of communication networks (mobile radio, RF, BPL, PLC, LoRaWAN, …).
  • Mapping and monitoring connectivity between network elements and smart meters, …

AMI system and security monitoring (“AMI Systems and Security Monitoring”)

  • Availability of AMI components and integration points.
  • Monitoring the system performance of IT and SW resources, …

In our experience, these four functional areas of a SMOC are necessary to effectively support the development and operation of a smart metering infrastructure.

The Smart Meter Operation Center provides different user-specific UX

A Smart Meter Operation Centre supports the needs of all personas who perform monitoring tasks in the “meter-to-cash” and “measure-to-control” use cases. A whole range of SLAs and KPIs need to be monitored for this purpose.

Abb. 3:  Das Smart Meter Operation Center (SMOC) im Einsatz

Fig. 3: The Smart Meter Operation Centre (SMOC) in use

The personas listed below are common (although not complete):

The SMOC manager always needs an up-to-date overview of the functionality of the entire AMI solution with all its components. He wants to know immediately, if possible in aggregated form, which (especially customer-relevant) problems have occurred, preferably before they affect customer service or other affected parties.

The Deployment Operator needs information about the current installation status of the smart meters as well as the planning for today and the next few days in the context of short/medium and long-term installation planning. Prior to this, he has ensured that the connection users have given their consent to the installation within the deadline. He is in direct contact with the installation service providers.

The Meter Equipment Operator monitors the functionality of the installed smart meters. He aims to detect and analyse faulty functions as early as possible. He is in direct contact with the meter supplier/manufacturer, is informed when error patches and firmware upgrades are to be carried out and monitors the replacement of defective meters.

The Communications Operator is responsible for the operation of the communications technology between on-site metering and head-end systems. In the event of errors in the communication system, no measured values may be transmitted from the meters. He calls for optimisation whenever errors accumulate.

The Smart Meter Gateway Operator (a role specifically for the German energy market) monitors all Smart Meter Gateways. He registers and checks certificates and access rights in accordance with BSI (Federal Office for Information Security) specifications. He must ensure that all authorised market partners, such as distribution network operators, have access to consumption data and can therefore also intervene to control it.

The Meter Data Operator expects information on whether all consumption values from the last consumption value transmission could be recorded and, if not, which values are missing and may require estimation or manual processing. He also checks consumption values for plausibility and discrepancies and monitors the request for consumption values “on demand”.

The Systems Operator monitors and manages the Smart Meter Operation Centre with all systems. He checks the availability and utilisation of IT resources, takes care of error detection and rectification in the SMOC components, backups, user accounts and access and provides SMOC services.

The Security Operator monitors the SMOC for security risks and specific threats and initiates any necessary countermeasures in the event of security-relevant incidents.

Each persona has specific requirements for the user experience (UX), which must be intuitive and self-explanatory. Intuitively correct use, as with other modern apps, must be possible for all personas working with the SMOC.

The role of AI in the Smart Meter Operation Centre

In the future, the UX will be supported by a digital assistant as a “co-pilot” during installation and operation, which will, for example

  • carries out ongoing risk analyses for all components in the supply chain (processes, systems, technology and personnel deployment) and makes suggestions on how to deal with expected bottlenecks in AMI solution components, for example, and optimises stock levels,
  • calculates if it’s necessary to inform the customer of the meter replacement date again so that the installer is not faced with a closed door,
  • independently analyses alarms and warnings and predicts in which locations component failures are to be expected and at what confidence level,
  • carries out analyses of events measured in the field and communicates the results to the component manufacturer for product optimisation,
  • makes suggestions as to how the installation planning of smart meters can be optimised in order to obtain information relevant to the grid as early as possible (such as volatility in critical grid areas),
  • answers specific questions about the installation, provides advice on solutions previously learned from experts and learns during operation,
  • records tickets in the event of errors, clarifies them independently and forwards them to solution teams.

The market offers a range of standard products to be assembled and integrated to a Smart Meter Operation Centre. However, ready-made systems often have the disadvantage that they do not fulfill the recommended AMI 2.0 standards summarised above.

IBM has been supporting energy companies in the development, introduction and integration of AMI solutions for over 20 years. Over 120 million smart meters have already been installed in more than 80 projects worldwide. Smart Meter Operation Centres have also been introduced, some of them with over 10 million smart meters.

Used Abbreviations:

  • AMS: Asset Management System
  • CC&B: Customer Care & Billing
  • HES: Headend-System
  • FAN: Field Area Network
  • GIS: Geographic Information System
  • NAN: Neighborhood Area Network
  • NIS: Network Information System
  • OMS: Outage Management System
  • SMGW: Smart Meter Gateway
  • UX: User Experience
  • WAN: Wide Area Network

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