Located in downtown Los Angeles, the Department of Water and Power has served customers since shortly after the turn of the 20th century. By diversifying its power portfolio the utility has focused on offering reliable service, and constantly strives to incorporate alternative renewable resources. Smart Energy International met with Mariko Marianes, Electrical Engineer, Power Rates & Contracts, LADWP to discuss the relationship between the utility and its customers.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
MM: I have a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering and came to work for the department back in 1986. I started in the metering division, and worked there about five years before moving into major accounts, helping with the technical information for our large customers. After that I spent about five years in electric vehicles, and now I’m in the rates and contracts group, where we handle all the AMR metering.
And tell us a bit about the LADWP.
MM: Well, the utility was established more than 100 years ago; we are the nation’s largest municipal utility. We serve 1.4 million electric customers, with our peak capacity at about 6000 MW, and 650,000 water customers.
What are the key challenges that your utility faces?
MM: Our biggest challenge right now is updating our CIS system. We are using a very old system, still using COBALT, so this is being actively discussed.
Give an overview of your utility’s metering operations and projects that are under way.
MM: We have about 7,000 wireless meters out at the moment, for our commercial customers, and 30,000 – 40,000 RF meters serving the residential market. Within the next ten years every meter on our system will be on AMR. We’re currently using walk-by systems and want to move up to drive-by, and eventually a fixed network. For the wireless systems we are using mainly GPRS, and we are now looking into WiFi meters.
What strategies have you implemented to strengthen relationships with your customers?
MM: Our large commercial/industrial customers have meter account representatives who work with them directly and we provide them with AMR data. They can look at the data on the internet and see their usage for the last 24 hours and even up to the last two years. Customer can then assess their energy usage and identify where they can potentially cut back.
How do you manage customers who steal energy?
MM: A few of the smaller commercial customers have been trying to steal energy from behind the socket; we notice this when we pull the meter out of the socket to replace it with a new AMR meter. We haven’t experienced much theft on the part of residential customers. Some of the meters have remote disconnect capabilities, but we haven’t been making use of this – it’s been something of a legal issue, in case we switch the wrong person off. When we go out and disconnect manually we can see it’s the right meter. We will want to use remote connects and disconnects in areas with high turnover, such as college dormitories where you have students constantly moving in and out.
Is the LADWP involved in any other R&D activities?
MM: We are doing small pilot projects at the moment. That’s how we started with the RF – with a small pilot project that eventually led to a full rollout for our customers. It began with houses that were hard for our meter readers to get to, but now we see all the other benefits.One of the issues with AMR has been the redeployment of meter reading staff. They will now become more proactive; instead of just going out and reading meters, they can go out and investigate, find meters that aren’t being read and things like that.
What are your visions for the utility?
MM: We want to see all the benefits from the data provided by the AMR meters. Real-time pricing is going to become more prevalent – and when we build the interval data into the new CIS system, once we get it, we will be able to provide real-time pricing information to all our customers.
Thank you for your input.