Implementing AMI at Florida Power & Light

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Smart Energy International recently had the opportunity to meet with Bryan Olnick, director of meter services; Scott Blackburn, AMI business manager; and Kathryn McDonald, manager AMI change management, of Florida Power & Light (FPL), and talk about their ongoing AMI initiatives.

Florida Power & Light Company (FPL) is the largest investor-owned electric utility in Florida, serving 4.5 million customer accounts. It is one of the largest and fastest growing electric utilities in the United States and is the nation’s leading utility in customer energy efficiency programmes. Metering programmes are central to the utility’s operations, and it was interesting to hear the depth of experience and the care with which the utility is moving forward with its investment in AMI technology.

“We have been evaluating and implementing automated metering and related processes for the past 20 years,” said Olnick. “In the late 1980’s we implemented a residential demand response system utilising power line technology, and leveraged this platform in the early ’90s to implement a remotely read AMR system for a small population of hard to read meters. Now, in 2008, we are making plans for a complete rollout of the latest two-way radio frequency (RF) smart grid AMI technology to all of our residential customers.”

“We are making plans for a complete rollout of the latest two-way radio frequency smart grid AMI technology to all of our residential customers.”

FPL has a significant history with metering communication systems. In 1993, FPL deployed approximately 34,000 power line carrier meters at homes with dogs or other safety concerns and has since continued obtaining a monthly read from all of these meters. FPL began using AMR solutions in 2001 for many of its revenue sensitive customers (generally C & I) using a combination of cellular and satellite technologies to transport the data. In 2003, the company’s focus turned to the residential and small business segment, seeking a solution that was low cost yet flexible. A number of technologies were tried and evaluated over the subsequent three years. However, none of these systems proved to be the ideal fit for FPL’s requirements to meet the smart grid vision of the utility providing full two-way functionality. Also, during this time, RF technology was evolving quickly, and FPL decided to step back in 2006 and take a fresh look at newer offerings in the AMI space.

FPL went through a rigorous technology evaluation process, and identified two-way RF mesh as the best technology fit for the company. In addition to RF mesh, a requirement that the system be IP-based emerged to ensure that the solution leverages industry best practices for security and maximises long-term viability. In 2007 a solution from Silver Spring Networks met many of FPL’s AMI requirements and closely aligned with FPL’s smart grid vision. FPL selected Silver Spring Networks and initiated an evaluation project to validate the capabilities of the technology.

Added Olnick: “We have a thorough methodology to evaluate and test new technology, including lab testing, followed by small-scale test sites, and finally complete neighbourhood and community sites that are representative of our service territory. Scalability is an important requirement to be proven when evaluating any technology, especially RF mesh.”

After thoroughly lab testing the product, 5,000 single phase meters equipped with the Silver Spring Networks technology were deployed in the Fort Lauderdale area in south Florida starting in July 2007 and thoroughly tested over the next three months. This first test proved very successful, and from October to December 2007 an additional 45,000 meters were deployed in areas adjacent to prior tests. Testing was thorough and iterative to put further stress on the network to fully understand the capabilities and expose the weaknesses. Testing included:

  • Read rate validation
  • Consumption verification
  • Counter and flag verification
  • Outage notification
  • Restoration confirmation
  • Backhaul failover
  • Firmware push, flip and confirmation
  • Tamper indication
  • Network throughput verification
  • Communication latency testing
  • Hop count validation
  • Communication security.

Based on successful results from the tests conducted, FPL extended the total implementation to 100,000 customers, completing the installation in June of 2008. The second deployment included more high-rise properties than the first deployment area, providing FPL with another opportunity to validate performance as well as the capability to work in various environments. With the successful operations of the AMI network in place, FPL is in the process of deploying approximately 1,500 meters equipped with an “under-theglass” remote connect switch within the currently deployed area.

Added Blackburn: “Our trials have been going extremely well. We have proven the AMI network installed can reliably and consistently provide communication to the meter in various deployment scenarios and under these scenarios it currently meets our base requirements for AMI. We also validated that while meeting these base requirements we are only using a portion of the network’s bandwidth. This provides significant capacity to add functionality to the network in the future to further enable our smart grid. With the full deployment planned to be completed for our AMI network over the next five years, we will have the foundation in place to implement additional smart grid functions and continue to receive benefits from the network. By having a network built on the foundation of IP, I expect many other uses of the smart grid to emerge, including some that we have not yet planned for.”