The Orion Project

How Arc Innovations helped Meridian Energy raise the level of engagement with its customers by replacing traditional or analogue power meters with smart meters

Meridian Energy wanted household electricity users to be able to use smart meters to take control of the costs of their day-to-day energy use. Smart meters would eliminate estimate bill readings and in time radically change the way electricity consumers bought and used electricity.

The smart meters needed to be part of a fully integrated AMI technology and service management solution.

At a glance

  • Deploy 125,000 smart meters to 110,000 Meridian Energy customers across 14,500 km of urban and rural Canterbury in a $50-million installation

  • Plan, consent and deploy around 180 RF mesh network infrastructure points

  • Develop and build an end-to-end solution

  • Improve accuracy and safety of meter boards by replacing ageing infrastructure that pose fire and public safety risks with modern equipment.

  • A more than 20 fold increase in meter installation activity in the region, reaching over 93 percent of possible ICPs

  • Manage a large scale electrical installation in a low maintenance environment using over 100 meter installers over the life of the project

  • New Zealand’s first large scale mass deployment of smart metering, and one of the earliest mass deployments globally

Background and challenges

The pioneering nature of the work meant there were many ‘unknown unknowns’. Some of the key areas that were vital to the successful deployment of the smart meters included

  • Planning the project with limited available information on actual metering in the field – and managing the realities as they were discovered

  • Executing an efficient geographical deployment, complex workflows and extended supply chains to maintain a smooth supply of work and equipment to the field work force

  • Managing access to indoor metering, businesses and remote locations

  • Ensuring safe conditions for contractors and customers and a quality delivery while replacing an aging metering stock in every imaginable location – and working to maintain those standards every day and for every installation for 2 ½ years

  • Sourcing and managing skilled installation contractors in the large volumes required

  • Managing communications coverage and the deployment of an extensive private RF network – with all the planning, legal consent and optimisation activity that went with it

  • Managing the evolution of metering and back office technology over the lifecycle of the deployment

  • Assuring a smooth transition to operations and uninterrupted read service

  • Engaging retailers and network partners in the ongoing management of customer interaction (and the inevitable customer questions and issues) as well as in evolution of their business systems and models to fully leverage the new capabilities

Solution

Arc was able to create platforms and systems to meet the requirements, including

  • Flexible communications capability, seamlessly mixing RF mesh, GPRS and satellite technologies to provide AMI service to almost any location

  • An extensible, reliable and future proof RF mesh communications solution which delivers a cost effective core platform capable of growing to meet the needs of future AMI services and is free of dependency on third party mobile network providers

  • Lightweight RF mesh solutions to efficiently serve rural communities

  • Job management systems, field services contractor management and quality assurance capabilities

  • An advanced services framework based on the international ITIL standard – providing best practice management of customer requests, queries and issues and ongoing service delivery

  • Acting as developer and integrator of custom metering and back office solutions

  • Provide an integrated deployment team between Arc and Meridian Energy, which enabled a seamless transition process and effective resolution of customer queries and issues

Result – Changing the Game

The platform Arc delivered in the Orion Project has presented new opportunities and added value for retailers, the distributor and the end consumer alike.

 

Electricity retailers

  • Increased read performance – from 92 percent to up to 99 percent actual monthly reads, and reduced cost for out-of-cycle reads

  • New tariff structures – for example multi rate day/night/weekend tarriffs, increasing the ability to transmit price signals to customers, influence demand, improve competitive offerings and transfer load into more profitable periods

  • A rationalised meter base and reduced total lease, read and field services costs – reducing overall cost to serve

  • A more efficient meter to cash cycle based on timely, accurate reads, correct meter and tariff records and reduced unaccounted for energy (UFE), driving more accurate and efficient cash collection

  • Reduced customer queries – and a corresponding decrease in call centre and field services overheads

  • New customer engagement models – for example, supporting Powershop’s online retailer model

  • Remote disconnect and reconnect services enabling new credit and vacant management capabilities and reducing cost to serve

  • The platform to continue to grow additional value and smart services, and continue to innovate 

 

Electricity distribution network company and smart grid evolution

  • Increased load control accuracy due to a proactive update of load control configurations during deployment

  • The ability to remotely update load control for groups of meters without prohibitive site visit costs

  • Other innovative disaster recovery and demand management capabilities (refer to our Christchurch Earthquake case study for more info)

  • Opportunities to leverage up to date metering logs, consumption and status information for network planning, oversight and issue resolution

  • Improved abilities to transmit pricing signals to customers, managing load, reducing peak demand, and delivering new opportunities to defer distribution investment

 

Electricity consumers

  • Online visibility of daily consumption through new retailer consumption reporting websites

  • Improved bill accuracy and the reduction in estimated reads

  • Increased privacy and the removal of the need for meter readers to access their properties

  • New pricing opportunities to leverage lower price electricity periods

  • The potential for further increased visibility of their electricity use and future visibility of near real time consumption


The Orion Project attested to Arc’s capacity to run an effective deployment and achieve high levels of penetration of the customer base. We were able to create and integrate meter, network and back office platforms and to deliver on the AMI promise of improved read performance, increased levels of service and new value opportunities touching electricity consumers, distributors and every major retailer, even the most remote customers.