In Big Country Electric Cooperative’s mission statement, we affirm our commitment to providing our member-owners with safe, reliable service at a competitive cost while positively impacting our local communities. Implicit in this commitment is our use of technology to improve accuracy and efficiency. Our metering department does that not only through our advanced metering infrastructure system but also with healthy doses of determination, common sense and practicality to make a good thing even better.
AMI smart meters allow us to retrieve meter readings through our power lines—not through radio frequencies.
We introduced pilot testing of our AMI system in June 2009, with the expectation that it would alert us to outages and potential meter failure issues, and that it would allow us to read meters on demand without trips to the meters and to perform remote disconnections from the office. The system has done just that, saving fuel, vehicle wear and tear, and time—freeing up our crews—ultimately saving money for the co-op and you. When the systemwide AMI installation concluded at the end of 2012, we already could see some benefits. Additionally, receiving Smart Grid Investment Grant funds offset a significant portion of the project costs.
In 2011, a problem was discovered with the four clips on the meters’ signalling pucks, the piece that communicates with computers in our office. Folks at other co-ops might have presumed that the entire meter was bad—some would have thrown out the defective meters and bought new ones—but that wasn’t necessary for the most part. A manufacturer’s recall was issued for a specific set of meters, but nonworking meters still were being regularly returned to our offices from the field.
With a tight budget and a dwindling stock of replacement meters in 2014, Meter Department Coordinator Eddy McIlwain recognized that the issue was a design flaw and that there had to be a way to repair the meters instead of replacing them all. The issue was simple and consistently problematic: A small metal clip loosened easily, cutting off communication with the office. McIlwain found replacement clip wire, and meter technician James Claxton discovered a way to solder the replacement wire clip to the puck. The inexpensive, fully functional repair method solved the problem: The meters again communicated with the office.
Not only did the discovery solve a problem, but it also saved the co-op a great deal of money. Combining labor and materials, the cost to make the repairs was well under half the $550 cost of replacing the meter. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to calculate the savings there!
Since 2012, we have continued to build on the capabilities of our metering department, adding equipment that allows us to test communications with meters in the office before they are put into service out in the field, ensuring the meters can send and receive data, which saves potential trips and troubleshooting time. The same device can load software updates to the meters and reprogram them—and it works with any type and size of meter.
Another device can perform accuracy tests on meters at full, partial and light loads; all meters must test within 1.5 percent accuracy to pass. We even have a mobile meter lab, which can test the accuracy of current and voltage of transformers in the field.
The tools are helpful, but an excellent system of organization is what really makes the equipment as efficient as possible, and our metering department staff gets all the credit for making it work so well. Meters pulled in the field are sent to our Roby office, cleaned and given thorough visual inspections and mechanical tests. Failures are taken out of service and destroyed, while meters that pass are repaired and updated; they are just as good as a brand-new meter.
As we near the sixth year post-implementation of our AMI system, we are very pleased with its performance and the cost-effective measures it affords our members. We are also very thankful for innovative employees who make superb use of the technology you invest in as a BCEC member.