I consider myself to be a reasonably adept DIY guy around the house. In the process of completing a long list of projects over the years, I have acquired a garage full of tools for automotive, plumbing, electrical, and a variety of other wife-assigned projects.
There was a time, however, when my tool collection was much less specialized, and I will admit that, in my inexperience, attempts were made to complete tasks with tools that were not designed for said tasks. Without going into unnecessary detail, it is fair to say that some of the results were “undesirable.” I suspect that most people can relate with at least one “I would have been better off just getting the right tool” experience of their own.
Can you do the job with a different tool? Possibly. Will it consistently give you the results that you desire? Probably not – at least not without added cost or frustration. The right tool for a job is the tool that is designed for the task, that is proven and reliable, and that gets the job done efficiently and correctly.
There is a lot to be said for having the right tool for the job.
That maxim holds true whether you are leveling shelves on a wall or reading meters and controlling devices on a distribution network. TWACS® (Two-Way Automatic Communication System) technology is Aclara’s bidirectional power line communication (PLC) system for meter reading and much more. Specifically designed for the task of reliable communication, TWACS has an enviable reputation for getting the job done consistently, efficiently, and correctly. More than one user has summed it up in the same three words: “It just works.”
TWACS is and continues to be the right tool for the job for the more than 400 electric utilities currently using the solution. Here are 10 reasons why utilities love it.
1. A low maintenance option for advanced metering infrastructure (AMI)
TWACS technology operates over existing power lines and does not require repeaters, line conditioning equipment, or special tuning. Once installed, TWACS equipment is very low maintenance, yet it still consistently reaches all meters with better than a 99% meter-read success rate.
2. Goes where the power line goes
The solution employs modulation of the native sinewave frequency (60 Hz or 50 Hz) waveform to send communication signals over power lines, carrying data to and from meters and other devices on the distribution network. The TWACS modulation differs from power-line carrier technology, which injects a separate frequency signal onto the power line. That carrier frequency can degrade over distance and through connections on the distribution network, and it is affected by changes to the network. The native frequency signal (and the TWACS modulation it contains) is consistent across the distribution network.
The result is that TWACS can reliably communicate to any meter or device connected to the power line, even over distances exceeding 150 miles. This makes TWACS technology a proven solution for all utilities, but particularly for those that cover significant geographic areas with low-to-medium endpoint densities.
3. Operated and maintained by the utility’s line personnel
Communications equipment necessary for TWACS communication is familiar to and serviceable by existing utility personnel, consisting of endpoint devices and equipment at the substation. This differs from technologies that operate on a separate networking architecture, often requiring additional engineering expertise to maintain.
4. Provides a better understanding of the electrical network
TWACS signals follow the existing electrical paths in the utility’s distribution network, offering insight into connectivity and phasing. In addition, changes in power line communication characteristics can offer early warning of developing distribution network problems for which preventive maintenance may be needed.
5. Top-notch customer service
Reliability of an AMI system is much more than just quality products, software, and solutions. To ensure maximum availability and to get the most out of your investment you need a partner that is there for you when you need them. Aclara has recently implemented a company-wide Customer Experience program, and while there is always room for improvement, our results so far show a happy TWACS customer base.
“We want to support our customers the way they want to be supported,” says John Dutt, Vice President of Customer Service. Phone, email or our Aclara Connect Community, we are here for you 24 hrs a day, 7 days a week.”
6. An ever-broadening array of improvements and new capabilities
TWACS technology is currently in its third generation, offering communications throughput that is multiple times that of previous generations. It achieves this throughput improvement by communicating concurrently on all available phase and feeder paths. With the improved throughput offered by newer TWACS modules, utilities have plenty of capacity for retrieval of consumption, demand, and interval values, as well as additional functions like outage management, load control, and distribution automation.
Aclara’s investment in TWACS extends beyond the communication infrastructure to include fault detection, analytics, and situational awareness applications in its AclaraONE™ (One Network for Everyone) head-end software. Improvements have also been made to demand response and load control devices, and development continues to add functionality and devices which further increase the value of TWACS networks.
7. Effective in applications such as load control and distribution automation
TWACS technology has its roots in load control and has been used by utilities since 1987 for demand response tasks. One utility currently using TWACS for their load control can create an overall load reduction of two gigawatts (2051 megawatts) in fewer than 15 seconds.
Curtailing load this expeditiously allowed the utility to defer construction of three medium-sized power plants. TWACS load control and distribution automation are economical and effective ways to maintain compliance, protect network equipment, and manage peak demand periods. Read more about how TWACS is used for load control.
8. Backward compatibility with legacy versions of the product
Utilities that have TWACS technology for AMI have enjoyed a seamless evolution of the solution and its capabilities, allowing them to implement upgrades without obsoleting equipment. Backward compatibility offers the flexibility to upgrade in the ways that best suit the utility without having to sacrifice previous investments.
9. Offers effective outage assessment and restoration monitoring
TWACS technology provides two methods for utilities to manage outages. In cases where the utility has received information that there is an outage in a specific area, either through an outage management system or a phone call, the utility can ping meters through TWACS to verify the extent of the outage and to confirm restorations.
A newly developed capability of the solution, however, allows utilities to identify outages and locate likely fault locations automatically. The Aclara Fault Detection and Localization module uses patent-pending algorithms to proactively detect when an outage occurs, eliminating reliance on customer no-power calls for outage notification. During an outage event, the software actively monitors the extent of the outage and automatically tracks and confirms restoration efforts. Read more on how one utility has put this capability to use.
10. Can be integrated into hybrid solutions using multiple technologies
In addition to TWACS, Aclara offers RF and cellular solutions that are all integrated into a single system through our unified AclaraONE headend software. This allows utilities to configure communication solutions that are optimized to fit their requirements while managing everything on a single software platform. In addition, AclaraONE provides interfacing to other utility applications to facilitate data exchange and network control for a wide variety of functions. The result is the consistent collection and leveraging of the utility’s data into actionable information that improves reliability, maximizes efficiency, and reduces costs.
To sum up
When you have the right tool for the job, both the experience and the results are better. Aclara’s approach provides maximum flexibility to use the best combination of communications solutions to meet utility requirements.
Today, TWACS is the proven solution of choice for hundreds of utilities, allowing them to improve reliability, increase operational efficiencies, and serve customers more effectively. Learn more about the specific benefits of TWACS by downloading our whitepaper, Factors that Make Power-Line Communication the Best AMI Choice.