Salt River Project in Arizona is no stranger to smart meter technology, having been deploying smart metering for over a decade. In this interview Carrie Young, who leads SRP’s Revenue Cycle Services organization, talks about some of the company’s activities in this area, and its move towards a smart grid.
Please start by telling us something about yourself.
I lead the Salt River Project (SRP) Revenue Cycle Services organization, managing all aspects and operations of the revenue cycle from meter to bill. As a member of Customer Services executive staff, I set the strategic direction for smart meter infrastructure and co-chair SRP’s Smart Grid Leadership Committee. My knowledge and understanding of the utility business with a strong technology foundation has led to opportunities for process improvement, streamlined work processes and automation that increase operational efficiency.
Prior to joining SRP, I spent 20 years in the United States Air Force in systems analysis where I led several project teams.
Who are the key members of your team?
Russ Borchardt joined SRP in 2002 and is the manager of Customer Metering Services. He manages the company’s meter operations and engineering as well as the field deployment and operations of SRP’s smart metering technologies. Russ has over 28 years experience in the electric utility industry with 22 years in the area of metering. Prior to joining SRP, he managed the meter operations for a major Midwest utility and was a project director for the installation of a 1.4 million electric and gas AMR system.
Gary Fritcke joined SRP in 1996 and is senior planning analyst for Customer Metering Services. He is responsible for the development and implementation of business plans for M-Power, SRP’s prepay metering project, and for developing and evaluating business cases for various Revenue Cycle Service projects including AMI. Gary has over 30 years of project management experience – twelve in the electric utility industry. Prior to joining SRP, he was a marketing and sales manager for the Dial Corporation where he managed business operating groups with annual sales of over $100 million.
Ritesh Patel is an electrical engineer with several years of AMI experience in project management, system design, and analysis. In his current position he provides engineering and technical support for multiple AMI technologies in use at SRP. He provides training, consultation and diagnostic support in the daily monitoring and performance analysis of smart metering devices, data retrieval communications, and associated data collection systems. He provides requirements development, testing procedures, and evaluation of new or evolving meter technologies for potential application and integration to SRP’s present and future business needs. He also acts as a technical resource to other internal business units and provides recommendations for new technology opportunities to meet individual customer needs and SRP customer focused programs.
John Gomez joined SRP in 1996 and is the supervisor of Customer Metering Services. He manages the company’s Eastern Region of field operations, and for the past three years he has been responsible for directing the field deployment and daily operations of SRP’s smart metering technologies. John worked in retail management prior to joining SRP and has over 17 years experience in the customer service field. Prior to becoming a supervisor, he gained real hands-on experience working as a Meter Technician on our smart meter deployment team
Give a brief history and current overview of Salt River Project.
SRP, based in Phoenix, was established in 1903 as the nation’s first multipurpose reclamation project authorized under the National Reclamation Act.
Today, SRP is the nation’s third largest public power utility and one of Arizona’s largest water suppliers, providing power to over 930,000 customers throughout a 2,900 square-mile service territory in central Arizona.
Give an overview of SRP’s metering operations and projects that are under way.
Customer Metering Services (CMS) supports the metering operations for SRP’s 930,000 residential and commercial customers. CMS is comprised of five operating groups: Field Metering Operations, Metering Backoffice Operations, Meter Shop Operations, Meter Reading, and Technical Support Services. Together, the five groups support the basic functions of CMS:
- Install, test, maintain, and repair generation, substation, commercial/industrial, and residential metering
- Upgrade, program, and exchange meters
- Administer maintenance programs to ensure acceptable accuracy performance of population
- Test and evaluate new metering equipment and technologies
- Investigate customer complaints for billing and high/low usage.
The deployment of smart meter technology to support the development of a smart grid system is SRP’s key project being supported by Customer Metering Services. Smart metering will provide personal energy management capability to customers. It will also allow SRP to effectively manage demand response, reduce peak load demand and lower operating costs. Elster’s EnergyAxis System provides the foundation for SRP’s smart meter initiative. Today, over 380,000 SRP customers are served with EnergyAxis smart meters. EnergyAxis provides a highly reliable infrastructure that enables SRP to automate meter reading and many of its field service activities.
The REX meters now being deployed have an internal service control switch. The service control switch enables SRP to remotely connect and disconnect meters without sending personnel to the meter location, thus better serving customers and lower operating costs. SRP can connect and disconnect service for move-ins and move-outs, and non-payment remotely from its service center 24 hours a day, seven days a week. On request meter reads are used for service calls that require a final bill read for move-outs or an initial reading for move-ins. The need to schedule and wait for service personnel to perform these functions has been eliminated. In addition, EnergyAxis allows SRP to collect TOU, demand, and monthly billing data from apartments, townhouses, residential homes and commercial accounts. All smart meters in the system are read daily for TOU and demand data. Daily reads are scheduled and collected from the central office and are fully automated. Meter reads can also be collected on an ad hoc or on request basis. The average read performance is 99.9 percent. SRP is in the process of installing approximately 10,000 smart meters each month.
SRP is one of a few U.S. utilities with prepayment and what have been the experiences with this and what is the current status?
M-Power, SRP’s prepay metering program, was first introduced to customers in 2000. Since then, M-Power has become the largest prepayment program in North America with over 80,000 customers. The outstanding enrollment numbers are reflective of M-Power having one of the highest customer satisfaction ratings of any customer program offered by SRP. Over 80% of customers report being VERY satisfied and over 90% of customers like the ability to monitor and control energy usage. Customers believe that they use energy more wisely. As a result, M-Power has also become an integral part of SRP’s demand management program. Research shows that M-Power customers have reduced energy consumption by an average of 12%.
SRP is currently partnering with Ampy/Landis+Gyr on the next generation of prepay meters that will be designed using the latest smart meter technology. The new prepay smart meters will have two-way radio communication capability and will function in both credit and prepay modes. The new technology will also be designed to support “tokenless” payment transactions. Currently, M-Power customers must use a smart card to make a purchase at one of SRP’s PayCenter locations and insert the card in an in-home display to have the credit loaded to their meter. “Tokenless” technology will allow customers to make purchases at a PayCenter or on the internet and then have the purchase wirelessly loaded onto their meter. The features of this new meter will enhance the convenience of prepay service and further expand the market for it.
What steps has SRP taken towards developing a smart grid?
As you can see, SRP is no stranger to smart meter technology. SRP has been deploying smart metering for over a decade, including advanced meter infrastructure (AMI), substation automation, and distribution feeder automation. SRP has also been active in developing an advanced fiber communications network. Started in 1997, the fiber network runs 1,400 fiber cable miles throughout SRP’s service territory interconnecting almost all of SRP business offices, substations and generating stations.
In 2007, SRP management identified the need to further leverage technology and initiated an effort to define the direction for developing a smart grid. That year, SRP contracted with EPRI to perform an assessment and deliver a smart grid technology roadmap. The roadmap was delivered in July 2008 and included seven key areas of recommendations, which SRP has organized around and is in the process of implementing.
Will SRP be applying for stimulus funding and can you outline the project(s) for which the funding will be sought?
Yes, SRP will be applying for funding of the following projects as part of the Smart Grid Matching Grant Program:
- Accelerated smart meter deployment and meter data repository
- Synchrophasor deployment
- Substation communications.
What is SRP doing to promote the development of renewables/net metering?
SRP has been very aggressive in the development of renewable energy. In 2006, SRP’s Board of Directors established a 15% Sustainable Portfolio target before any action by Arizona’s PUC. SRP is Arizona’s leader in existing renewable resources. SRP currently has a diversified mix of renewables totalling 528 MW, which represents 7.8% of system peak.
The renewable efforts currently underway include:
- Arizona’s first in-state wind development
- 240 MW solar facility under study (SRP 160 MW)
- Landfill gas, biomass
- Large hydro – a century-old public-private infrastructure partnership between federal government and SRP shareholders
- Geothermal, including an experimental program.
What are the key challenges that SRP faces?
SRP’s key challenge is to find new ways to contain costs in the face of rising energy costs so that we can continue to deliver low cost energy to our customers. We will also need to develop the infrastructure needed to support the resumption of sustained growth in our service territory and meet the projections for future intermediate and peak generation.