Proving the Business Case for the Internet of Things

AEP and Utilidata combine AMI and VVO to save energy

Steve Rogerson
February 25, 2020



AEP Ohio and Rhode Island-based utility software company Utilidata have integrated two grid modernisation investments – advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) and volt-VAR optimisation (VVO) – to increase energy savings and customer benefits.
 
Across the USA, utilities and state utility regulators are evaluating electric grid modernisation investments. Ideally, grid modernisation should increase benefits to customers while reducing costs. This balance can be difficult to achieve when deploying new technologies, and when projects are rolled out separately without clear coordination.
 
 
Ohio’s PowerForward initiative seeks to promote “a distribution grid that is reliable and resilient, optimised and efficient, and planned in a manner that recognises the necessity of a changing architectural paradigm”. Beginning even before this initiative was announced, AEP Ohio has been investing in AMI and VVO technologies benefitting their operations and their customers.
 
It has installed over a million smart meters to reduce operational costs and improve utility services by promoting reliability and energy savings. And it has enabled voltage optimisation on nearly 100 circuits to drive three per cent energy savings for customers using Utilidata technology.
 
Utilidata’s VVO platform leverages near real-time data from equipment across the distribution system, including AMI. Its approach uses various methods – digital signal processing, stochastic optimisation and machine learning – to lower the voltage set point based on the specific conditions on each individual circuit, which reduces waste and saves more energy. Utilidata has evaluated the effectiveness of standalone VVO deployments, as well as VVO deployments that leverage AMI data. Working together, VVO and AMI can deliver significantly more savings.
 
AEP Ohio has deployed VVO for roughly ten years, and it has delivered, on average, three per cent energy savings by intelligently reducing high voltages and eliminating potential wasted energy. Savings are measured by turning VVO off for a day and on for a day and comparing the energy usage. This is among the most reliable forms of measurement and verification for an energy efficiency programme.
 
In addition, it measures the operations of the distribution equipment to determine if they were running more or less often when VVO was engaged. Utilidata’s active, holistic controls allow devices to operate more efficiently, leading to an approximately thirty per cent reduction in equipment operations.
 
AEP Ohio is now testing a Utilidata module that takes voltage data from AMI and applies proprietary algorithms to find the most relevant information for fine-tuning a VVO scheme. This application filters through a massive amount of data, allowing VVO to use AMI as an end-of-line sensor to improve system visibility and customer savings.
 
This technology has been deployed in 16 circuits and in its first six months of operation is yielding on average another one per cent or more energy savings.
 
The four per cent energy savings that AEP Ohio and Utilidata achieved with VVO plus AMI is roughly double even the most aggressive annual state energy efficiency mandates across the USA. These savings are also cheaper to achieve than most energy efficiency programmes, and importantly they don’t require that customers actively engage with energy data or contribute any out-of-pocket expenditures.
 
Customers of all income types can simply enjoy lower bills from a more efficient grid. The savings that result from combining AMI data with VVO strengthens the cost-to-benefit case for deploying AMI infrastructure, by adding contributing meaningful customer savings.
 
AEP Ohio and Utilidata’s integration of AMI data into a VVO deployment shows how grid modernisation efforts can, and should, be coordinated to deliver greater value to customers. Utilidata is testing this combination of smart hardware and software on additional use cases, such as improving reliability and more cost-effectively integrating distributed energy resources, such as rooftop solar and electric vehicles. These use cases should help utilities such as AEP Ohio continue to reap benefits from their grid modernisation investments.