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Automated Metering Infrastructure

As a cooperative that is owned by its members, Carteret-Craven Electric Cooperative (CCEC) invests in technology with the goal of improving its members' lives. For more than 20 years, CCEC staff researched AMI (which means "automated metering infrastructure") systems at other cooperatives and investor-owned utilities before deciding to invest in the technology. We watched and waited to ensure that AMI technology had matured and that the selected system was a time tested and good investment for our members.

Before AMI, CCEC relied on a manual process that required field service technicians (what many people called "meter readers") to visit each member’s meter every month. This system produced consistent results for billing, but did not generate any other useful data that could help us identify potential issues at members’ homes and on our distribution system.

AMI presented CCEC with another option for reading meters: AMI meters are read electronically and remotely.

However, early AMI systems were not very beneficial for CCEC. Early AMI relied on one-way communications, from the meter to the utility, and were designed to allow remote meter reading only. These systems used short-range, unlicensed radios and signals that were injected on the 60HZs powerline. Early systems were disrupted by weather conditions and very limited in the information that they could provide.

AMI systems have come a long way in the last 20 years, bringing improvements in both technology and reduction of overhead costs. In 2013, CCEC piloted an AMI system that provided two-way communications from the meter to the home. The pilot included testing at our staff and board of directors’ homes. They wanted a first-hand look at the safety, accuracy, and reliability of the system. In 2014, after a successful pilot, CCEC began the full deployment of the AMI system.

CCEC’s AMI system provides CCEC and its members with several important benefits. The system helps CCEC with 24/7 meter reading, power quality monitoring and outage alarm notifications. That combined with our around-the-clock dispatch team and outage management system, improves service and accelerates outage notification, which means quicker service restoration and improved preventative maintenance.

The system transmits real time alerts when power quality events are triggered at a meter such as loss of power and low voltage. It sends signals which help detect excessive energy usage allowing members to schedule HVAC maintenance rather than be impacted by high bills or equipment failure. The outage notification helps CCEC more safely and efficiently coordinate dispatching of crews, as demonstrated in major storms. Our AMI system helped us respond more quickly and safely to outages during Hurricane Florence.

As with all technology advancements that CCEC implements, we are committed to safety and member protection. Our AMI meters are built with safety in mind first and foremost. AMI meters are built to the same, or higher, industry standards of our old meters. More important, the new AMI meters can help alert us to a problem before it becomes dangerous.

Our meters also are built to ensure data protection. Meter information is not transmitted over the Internet. Instead, meters communicate directly with CCEC staff over secure radio connections. We do not share, sell, or otherwise allow any third parties to use member meter data. Your directors and employees at CCEC have AMI meters, and you can trust that we did due diligence to ensure the safety of the meters and the privacy of the data collected. If you have any questions or concerns, call us at 252.247.3107 or send an email to customerservice@ccemc.com. If helpful for you, we will have an engineer contract you to discuss the AMI system in more detail.  

How it Works

The diagram provides a simple view of the communication path for CCEC’s AMI system. The system operates with direct radio communication between the meter and CCEC’s towers, which are usually located on 100’ CCEC-owned monopoles or area water towers. The system’s direct communication is in contrast to other smart meter technologies that use unlicensed “mesh networks” that build a communications path by daisy-chaining area meters and repeaters. CCEC AMI system communicates through an FCC-licensed radio spectrum in the range of 901-940MHz.

Since communication is directed through a predefined route, transmissions typically occur six specific times in the day and only for a short duration, on average a tenth of a second. In addition, to take full advantage of the system, not all communications are scheduled, as alerts are sent in real time to inform CCEC’s dispatch of abnormal conditions. Usually, CCEC's meters communicate with CCEC systems less than one minute a day.

An important benefit of CCEC’s AMI system is the real time messages that are sent when meters detect alert conditions such as a power outages or low voltages. These conditions trigger a short message that is transmitted from the meter to the tower to alert CCEC’s dispatch in near real time. The reverse is true, as well. Our customer service representatives have the ability to communicate, or as we say, “ping the meter,” to receive a current reading and power quality information. An example of this would be when a member contacts the office inquiring about high energy use.

Benefits

There are several direct benefits for members:

  • We have immediate access to your meter readings to answer your billing questions and help analyze your energy usage on the phone.
  • If the power going to your meter goes out, the meter will automatically notify us. There is no need to call. If you want to confirm, check our outage map.
  • Transferring electric service to a different name can be done in just minutes, as the meter reading for final billing can be done virtually instantaneously, and then transferred to a new name.
  • Members have the ability to pre-pay for electricity: PrePay
  • During outages, the AMI system is able to verify quickly when power has been restored to a specific location.
  • More comprehensive energy usage information helps us better forecast future needs. Better planning provides opportunities for cost savings.
  • Power quality diagnostics help us determine the source of outages, indications of future problems, and validation that a meter is online again after an outage.

The new system makes what we do even more effective and will allow us to more actively monitor our system and provide more information to our members.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why did CCEC install the AMI system?
Our goals in installing AMI meters are to deliver better service, control rising operating expenses, improve system reliability through improved outage management and preventive maintenance, and provide our members with information they can use to make informed decisions about energy use. The system enables us to communicate with electric meters remotely and integrate new cost-saving activities that benefit all CCEC members, including reading electric meters remotely and automatically detecting outages.

I have heard these meters put off electromagnetic fields (EMF) or radio waves (RF). Should I be concerned?
CCEC’s AMI meters contain a low intensity, 1-watt radio and antenna. Its transmissions result in much smaller levels of radio frequency (RF) exposure than many existing household electronic devices, particularly cell phones, Wi-Fi routers, and microwave ovens. Research conducted by independent third-party engineering firms, the Electric Power Research Institute, the Utilities Telecom Council and others indicates these meters operate below the exposure limits defined by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). These defined limits are based on recommendations issued by organizations such as the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. (IEEE) and the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements (NCRP). CCEC and its meter vendor are in complete compliance with all FCC rules and regulations for public exposure.

There are two main reasons why the exposure from CCEC’s AMI meters is much lower than FCC defined limits: 1) infrequent signal transmission, and 2) distance. On a daily basis, the cooperative’s meters will emit power for less than one minute a day. The connection comes in short bursts of data, usually less than one second long. In addition, these meters are typically placed outdoors, with a wall separating the meter from the living space.

CCEC is a not‐for‐profit business that is solely owned and operated by the members who receive electric service from the cooperative. When our board of directors approves a policy or procedure for the use of new equipment and technologies, they do so knowing that it will also apply to their own homes. In fact, meters were installed on all our directors’ and employees’ homes in the testing phase of the system. In using this metering system, we have not only found it to be a wise and safe choice for all coop members and their families, but our own families as well.

If you have concerns about RF exposure or would like to discuss ways to reduce your RF exposure, please contact us at 252.247.3107 or send an email to customerservice@ccemc.com.

Does the AMI service interfere with my radio, telephone, computer, television, phones, wireless internet access, invisible fence or other equipment?
CCEC’s AMI system is built to industry standards and operates on licensed FCC spectrum in compliance with Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Regulations to avoid interference with other electronic devices. On average, your meter will be set to transmit data six times a day, with each RF-signal lasting an average of a tenth of a second. It will transmit on a frequency reserved for this purpose and should not interfere with other equipment. The meter does not transmit continuously, but will transmit a real-time alert message if there is a power quality concern at your service, such as a power outage.

Is my personal account information secure?
Yes. The AMI system is secure. It does not interact with or transmit personal customer information. Also, measures are in place to ensure no personal identification information is located on our AMI data portal. Meter information is not transmitted over the Internet. Instead, meters communicate directly with CCEC staff over secure radio connections. We do not share, sell, or otherwise allow any third parties to use member meter data.

The meter’s LCD display shows kWh usage and kW demand same as a traditional mechanical meter. The meter is a sealed unit with a built-in tamper alarm which alert when the meter is removed from the socket without authorization.

Does the AMI meter track or monitor individual appliances?
Your new meter does not identify electrical devices in the home or record when they are operated. The meter only records total energy usage and demand at the meter—just like our old meters.

Will CCEC sell my usage data to a 3rd party?
CCEC is governed by nine Board of Directors, who are themselves, members of CCEC and were some of the first to receive an AMI meter in 2013. CCEC does not sell usage data to any third-party entities. Collective usage data of the CCEC system may be used by CCEC to more efficiently operate the electrical system and save money for the members.

Will I still see CCEC crews or meter readers in my area occasionally?
The use of AMI technology will not completely eliminate the need for traditional field service crews. We may, on occasion, still need to send employees to inspect meters and service other co-op equipment. Normally, CCEC will not use meter readers anymore.

 

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