Supporting open innovation in AMR with the IntelliGrid architecture


In early 2005, Southern California Edison’s Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) team faced a significant challenge toward the development of a positive business case based on existing AMI technologies.

The typical operational savings associated with deploying an automated metering reading system had already been realised by earlier investments in distribution automation, mobile AMR for the highest cost-toread customers, and advanced metering for large commercial and industrial customers (200 kW and greater). As a result, Edison’s March 2005 AMI business case cash flow yielded a negative net present value of nearly $500 million.

It was clear that a different approach to solving this challenge was needed. The team studied the massive Enel advanced meter project and the technology concepts employed in their bespoke electronic meter. The team also researched the state-of-the-art in electronic meter components and product development lifecycles engaging chip manufacturers and manufacturing experts.

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A third element identified was the industry work on creating intelligent grids and the potential application for advanced metering sponsored by the Electric Power Research Institute’s (EPRI) IntelliGrid Architecture and the Department of Energy’s GridWise Architecture programmes. Edison also recognised that it was imperative to “do it right”, not only from a technical and utility operation perspective, but to place primary emphasis on the customer.

By taking the customer’s perspective it is possible to focus on the innovations that are believed to yield the right blend of customer benefit, utility efficiency and technologies necessary to optimise customer value. For example, the overarching programme objectives all relate to the customer. Edison is pursuing its vision of advanced metering because of the belief that it makes sense for its customers.

These are the unique elements that provided the foundation for the development of a path forward for Edison’s advanced metering programme. It became apparent that with the right functional and technical capabilities in an advanced meter, the system could create greater value and potentially result in a positive business case. The path forward, filed in early 2005 with the California Public Utilities Commission, is a three phased programme that incorporates an open collaborative process leveraging ‘open innovation’ techniques used in other industrial sectors. Edison successfully completed the first phase in December 2006.

A vision of the power grid of the future

A cornerstone for the foundation of this path forward is EPRI’s IntelliGrid Architecture framework utilising a systems engineering approach combined with a use case framework. This innovative combination leverages best practices from aerospace engineering and information technology. The result is a robust method for developing requirements for complex systems like large advanced metering infrastructures.

The IntelliGrid Architecture is organised into a number of domains and use cases that together describe a future-state ‘intelligent’ electric grid where the entire electricity supply chain from the utility enterprise to the customer is supported by smart devices and real-time information distributed across an integrated data and electricity network. The vision provided by the IntelliGrid Architecture serves as a powerful tool to place advanced metering solutions in the context of a much larger vision of intelligently connecting customers, utility enterprises, suppliers, grid operators and distribution power systems.

The value of connecting these disparate islands of information becomes apparent and serves as a mechanism to shift focus from the overwhelming complexity of implementation to the ‘big picture’ where deployment of an AMI may be viewed as a new strategic growth platform that is a critical piece of a larger intelligent electric grid. Edison’s AMI team shifted its thinking to this broader strategic perspective and was able to use the IntelliGrid Architecture to navigate from a very high level view to lower levels of detail from different stakeholder perspectives, such as the customer’s point of view.

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This provided the team with the ability to approach AMI system design in a structured manner that divided a complex system in manageable ‘chunks’ of functionality. From this common vision it was possible to develop a set of design principles, focused on engaging customers in the energy supply chain, enhancing the customer experience, and creating lasting value, that guided the AMI system design approach. More importantly, the ability to decide what was important, what to ignore and how to organise and judge the new capabilities identified resulted from the IntelliGrid framework. This work conducted in 2006 during Phase I, along with a collaborative product development effort conducted with AMI technology vendors, yielded a positive preliminary business case.

Using the IntelliGrid Architecture

The IntelliGrid Architecture uses a model-driven approach to describe both the uses of the connected advanced automation technologies and how this overall system would behave in response to particular requests or events. The IntelliGrid Architecture represents these potential uses and behaviours in a technology independent manner which serves as a framework for navigating and adapting the architecture for use by a particular implementation project.

The IntelliGrid Architecture framework is organised in the following manner:

  • Business needs of the power system industry, as captured in the power system operations functions, and categorised into IntelliGrid Architecture environments
  • Strategic vision based on high level concepts of distributed information
  • Tactical approach based on technology independent techniques of common services, information models, and interfaces.
  • Standard technologies and best practices that could be used in the power industry
  • Methodology for automation architects, power system planners, project engineers, information specialists, and other IntelliGrid Architecture users to zone in on the exact parts of the architecture that are directly relevant to them, and to quickly access IntelliGrid Architecture recommendations.

 Working directly with EPRI and supported by the consulting systems engineers, Enernex and IBM, the Edison System Design team identified the elements from the IntelliGrid Architecture framework that were directly applicable to the AMI programme. The individual elements were then tailored within the framework to suit the needs of the Edison project and the IntelliGrid use case templates were adopted.

The modelling approach was also adapted to Edison’s systems engineering approach. Over forty use case workshops were organised to drive the IntelliGrid uses down to a lower level of detail to produce preliminary business and technical functional requirements. The result of much of this effort, including the completed use cases and requirements, can be found on Edison’s website.

Edison’s open innovation approach to AMI

The IntelliGrid Architecture framework served to jumpstart Edison’s AMI system design activities and requirements development. However, the system capabilities envisioned were not yet available on the market at a cost effective price point and several technical issues remained. To bridge the gap, Edison developed an approach based on ‘open innovation’.

Open innovation is collaborative exchange of ideas from both internal and external industry sources and thought leaders. Edison used open innovation as a basic organising principle aimed at aligning the functional requirements with open-based design and what the market would produce. It was clear from the beginning that Edison had no intention of building a custom product like Enel. Instead, the aim was to spur development of a new generation of electronic meters that would be supported by a large, sustained utility market in which Edison is only one buyer.

This approach to open innovation included the customers, and reaching out domestically and internationally to AMI technology vendors, research organisations and universities, utility companies, and regulatory and policy making bodies. Through this ongoing exchange of ideas and intended uses of the AMI technology, it was possible to refine the thinking and shape the programme direction and business case.

This open innovation approach was not an ad hoc effort but organised into multiple elements such as the formation of a Technology Advisory Board to bring together technical thought leadership to issues such as system security, the role of advanced metering in the larger intelligent grid, application of systems engineering to advanced metering, and an open dialogue for practical applications into ongoing standards development and research.

The Board includes the following members:

  • Carnegie Mellon University: Rahul Tongia
  • Gridwise Architecture Council: Steve Widergren
  • IntelliGrid: Joe Hughes
  • International Electrotechnical Commission/TC8: Richard Schomberg
  • CEC Demand Response Research Center: Dave Watson
  • OpenAMI: Ray Bell

Contributing to the IntelliGrid Architecture

Edison’s use of the IntelliGrid Architecture, coupled with its open innovation approach, produced a clear set of capabilities and requirements. In the process of developing the use cases, requests for proposals, architectures and models, Edison extended the IntelliGrid Architecture to a lower level of detail. As part of the open innovation approach, Edison worked with EPRI to incorporate its AMI system design back into the IntelliGrid Architecture.

The hope is that other utility programmes can benefit from this work and that this process of continuous refinement by other utilities will sustain its evolution towards a reference architecture for the electric supply chain of the future. It is Edison’s belief that this will serve the best interests of the utility industry as it makes significant investments over the next decade.