Frequently Asked Questions

What is a smart grid and what are the benefits?
The smart grid consists of technology applied to the grid of electricity transmission lines to allow for two-way communication between the utility and consumers.

Benefits include the following:

  • Faster electricity restoration after outages
  • Lower operations costs
  • Efficient electricity transmission
  • Improved security
  • Reduced peak demand
  • More accurate and reliable billing data
What are Smart Meters?
Smart meters collect hourly (or more granular) usage data and periodically transmit this data to the utility. Smart meters also transmit key operational data, such as power outages, voltage information, tampers, restoration notices, and leaks (water).
How do Smart Meters differ from conventional meters?
Conventional meters contain a mechanical spinning dial with an analog display. These meters record only the total amount of usage for the entire billing period and do not report when usage occurred. Consumption is calculated as the difference between the previous month’s reading and the current month’s reading, as recorded by human meter readers.

Smart meters are digital, and regularly transmit hourly (or more granular) data to the utility. Smart meters also provide operational data, such as power quality monitoring and power outage notifications.

What is the reason for the Smart Metering trend?
Implementing an AMI network and smart meters provides a long list of benefits:

  • Improved service reliability through outage and restoration notification
  • Improved theft detection
  • Improved asset management (e.g., voltage monitoring, transformer loading, etc.)
  • The ability to implement new rate models, such as TOU (time of use) to promote conservation and shift consumption from on-peak to off-peak times
  • Improved customer service through access to consumption patterns
  • Enhanced conservation programs (e.g., load control thermostats, in-home displays)
  • Automation of operational equipment (e.g., load fault indicators, switches)
  • Collection service options (e.g., remote disconnect, prepay)
How does TOU (Time of Use) Pricing Work?
TOU pricing aims to encourage consumers to shift their usage to off-peak hours.  Electricity prices rise and fall over the course of the day and drop overnight and on weekends, based on the amount of supply available and the levels of demand.  With TOU pricing, electricity prices vary based on when it is used (by time of day, day of week (week days versus weekend) and by season). Shifting energy usage reduces the strain on the electricity system and diminishes the need to construct new power generation facilities.
Are Smart Meters Safe?
Smart meters use low power RF transmitters that transmit only periodically. Radio frequency exposure is less than a cordless phone, cell phone, wireless router, or microwave.
What is an MDM?
A Meter Data Management system is used to aggregate, process, and analyze meter read and operational data delivered by the AMI network. The MDM evaluates the meter read data, generating estimates where required, and then delivers the data to the utility systems (e.g., CIS, system design, customer Web portal). In the smart meter environment, increased data volume and complexity as well as the need for more involved data manipulation have introduced the need for an MDM.
What services does Util-Assist provide?
Our services span the complete life cycle, from business case development through to testing and implementation. These services include:

  • Strategic Planning, Business Case Development, and Procurement
  • Architecture Design
  • Project Management
  • System Integration and Implementation
  • Business Process Development and Change Management
  • Data and Exception Analysis (“Sync Operator” Services)
  • Testing and Quality Assurance
  • Training and Education
  • Billing Services
  • Conservation Program Management
What is the Green Button Initiative?
The Green Button is a new U.S. initiative in answer to a White House call-to-action: “provide electricity customers with easy access to their energy usage data in a consumer-friendly and computer-friendly format via a “Green Button” on electric utilities’ websites.”  By clicking on a Green Button, the end-user can download up to 13 months of energy usage. The effort is based on a common technical standard, encouraging application developers to develop consumer tools.  A number of companies have already developed innovative Web and smartphone applications that use Green Button data to help consumers understand and manage their energy usage. As of November 2012, 33 million Americans now have access to their energy usage through the Green Button.  Recently, it was announced that a working group in Ontario, Canada is investigating Green Button implementation at Ontario utilities.

For more information visit the Green Button website.

How can District Metered Areas (DMA) help with water leakage management?
To improve the ability to monitor leaks within a water distribution system, a utility can monitor district metered areas (DMA), a practice that originated in the U.K., but is becoming more common among North America utilities. A district is an area of the water system that is specifically defined, such as by the closure of valves, and in which all water entering and leaving the district is metered. An analysis of water flow in the DMA, in particular the night-time flow, determines the rate of leakage. The total volume of water flowing into the zone is compared to the legitimate water consumption within the zone. By subtracting the legitimate consumption from the total flow, the utility can calculate the leakage rate. This information can be used to determine not only whether work should be undertaken to reduce leakage, but also to compare levels of leakage in the different districts to assess where it is most beneficial to undertake leak location activities. A combination of hourly interval data and district metering points will allow for better identification of where losses are occurring and development of programs to mitigate the problem.