Learn how we mapped out and planned millions of smart meters using the 4 phase value chain of our communications planning tool CARMEN.
By 2019, all electricity meters in Norway are supposed to be replaced with smart meters – an absolutely massive undertaking that would be impossible without some serious planning. The communications for about 2.1 out of the total 2.7 million meter endpoints are planned using CARMEN – cloud based software that can map out an entire infrastructure, as well as assist in the implementation and operation of any such network. The process is split into a value chain of 4 distinct phases, which we’ll take a closer look at in this article.
Phase 1: Planning
There are two main elements of the planning phase, which are the network itself, and the geographical area it’s spread across. The smart meters are part of a mesh network, meaning it’s a decentralized structure consisting of master and slave nodes, all connected in a kind of web. Planning these networks demands detailed information about what kind of signal loss you can expect from terrain, buildings, forests, mountains – anything that may obstruct the signal in any meaningful way.
The CARMEN software includes a robust GIS (Geographical Information System) in which you may import up-to-date maps of the relevant area. You may then use these to simulate the finished network, and easily pick out the nodes to which the radio signal won’t reach. You have the possibility to improve the range by adding antennas, and more where the signal struggles the most. Keeping the expensive master nodes to a minimum is essential, and CARMEN lets you figure out the most cost effective distribution of these.
Phase 2: Rollout
The next step is the actual installation of the radio network. CARMEN can integrate with the work order systems of the installation companies, were the agreed detailed information of the radio plans, such as for type of antenna and more can be exported directly for use by the engineers installing the meters. You may also use the CARMEN Viewer to allow the DSO (customer) a detailed read-only view of what has been planned, which is very valuable discussing the details of the agreed radio plans.
A special challenge we encountered during the rollout phase had to do with the positioning of smart meters in Norwegian homes. Because they’re placed inside the building, rather than on the outside, showing up when the homeowner was away meant having to reschedule the installation for later. If any of these smart meters were supposed to be master nodes, that means other nodes in the neighborhood were also affected, and as such triggered a chain reaction of extra work for later. This shows the importance of careful planning.
Phase 3: Cleanup
The cleanup phase is when you go back and fix whatever didn’t work during the rollout phase. This is a major cost driver, which makes the previous two phases so important. You can minimize the amount of cleanup you have to do by careful planning and well structured rollout, but there’s always going to be something that didn’t go according to plan.
Integrating CARMEN with the Head End System (HES) lets you combine the planned network with the actual one, and to see what nodes need to be touched up. You may see the strength of every signal, how each node is connected, and how well it’s communicating with its neighbors.
Phase 4: Operations
Once the network is established and cleaned up, you’re in operation, which is continuous. New houses will be built, thus there will always be new building areas that needs to be planned. This means more smart meters that need to be distributed, as well as more clutter to take into account.
The operations phase is quite simply the entire process all over again, including planning, distribution, and cleanup, just on a smaller scale. This is usually done by a dedicated department of the DSO, through their own work order/field system.
The offer process
Worth to mention is also that a communications planning tool such as CARMEN is an excellent tool for planning all cost elements of the communications infrastructure in an offer.
In Norway, our customers have used CARMEN also in this phase of the project and these are some common benefits they have experienced:
- An early overview of all the equipment needed in the offer
- Managed cost and risk associated with the offer
- Form an initial idea on how the communications infrastructure will look like in the project phase
- Shown the customer an initial radio plan
- Shown their customers that were well prepared