As an engineer, I look at all the details when deciding on a major purchase – a new vehicle, new appliances, you get the idea. My wife calls this overanalyzing, but I prefer to think of it as careful buying. While there are benefits to researching all the features and specifications, one of the most helpful pieces of information is to hear the first-hand opinion of someone who has purchased the same item before.
No one would argue that selecting and implementing an AMI system qualifies as a major purchase for an electric utility. Not only does it represent a considerable outlay of capital, but it also brings with it the need to deploy and maintain new equipment, integrate with other systems, and re-train employees on different processes. With the variety of AMI options available, it is wise to dig beyond the features listed on the sales cut-sheet to “read the reviews” from other utilities that have first-hand experience with the benefits and pitfalls of different technologies.
With that in mind, we asked two utilities to share their reasons for choosing TWACS® technology. Lake Country Power in Grand Rapids, Minn. made the decision earlier this year to deploy TWACS for the first time. Tillamook People’s Utility District (PUD) in Tillamook, Ore. originally installed TWACS more than a decade ago and then recently made the decision to re-invest with a TWACS upgrade. We sincerely appreciate both utilities taking the time to share their experiences and opinions. In their own words, here are their reasons for choosing and reinvesting with TWACS:
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Lake Country Power: Looks for reliability and a long-term commitment to development
Ryan Ferguson, P.E, Metering/SCADA Engineer, Lake Country Power
Aclara: Why did you choose Aclara and the TWACS solution?
Ferguson: “We went through a yearlong process to formally gather our requirements, get vendor responses through an RFP, and evaluate the short list of vendors before deciding on Aclara. We even did site visits to two coops using the TWACS technology to help ensure we were making the correct choice.”
“The biggest reason we chose to go with TWACS is its reliability. As everyone says, ‘It just works.’ We currently have a power-line based AMI system that never met the expectations, was overpromised to us, and required significantly more infrastructure equipment than planned and budgeted for. We didn’t want to make these mistakes again.”
“The biggest reason we chose to go with TWACS is its reliability. As everyone says, ‘It just works.’”
Ryan Ferguson, P.E, Metering/SCADA Engineer
“Aclara also made it very clear that they are committed to the TWACS technology and continue to invest in it despite what competitors may be saying. Fault Detection & Localization [a module in the AclaraONE™ software platform] is one example of an improvement to the TWACS technology that Aclara continues to invest in to meet our needs. This should be a great tool for us to fight outages.”
“Load control was a very important part of our decision on an AMI technology and Aclara listened to our needs and is developing a new Demand Response Unit (DRU) compatible with TWACS. We have two employees on the design committee for this new DRU and we look forward to beta testing it.”
Aclara: What are some of the benefits you have gotten from the solution so far? Were these expected or are any of the benefits surprises?
Ferguson: “We just got deployed on our first substation in the last month, so we are just starting to see the benefits of TWACS. We got through our first billing cycle and had 100% reads, which was very exciting. We are excited about the engineering data that we will be able to get from the system such as accurate feeder and phase information that can be used to update our maps for a more accurate model. We just pulled the feeder and phase information and started to compare it to our GIS.
“The FD&L technology for detecting and fighting outages also really excites us. We haven’t had a chance to test this out yet, but we are hopeful that it will be as good or better than the “last gasp” capabilities of the RF competitors. We also think that this should be a great tool to find nested outages before our crews leave an area. Other benefits we plan to investigate down the road include transformer loading, voltage monitoring, and CVR. We really look forward to seeing all the benefits of having such reliable data from the TWACS system.
“The biggest challenge that TWACS faces in my eyes is the perception that it is old and that power line-based technologies don’t work. Every other power line-based technology failed, and people need to know that TWACS is nothing like that and is so reliable. There is no other AMI system that can touch the reliability of TWACS.”
Tillamook PUD: Sold on support, customer service, and actionable data
Kim Ramsell, IT Systems Specialist at Tillamook PUD in Tillamook, OR
Aclara: Why did Tillamook choose TWACS initially?
Ramsell: “In the words of Joel George, our retired AMI Administrator, who initially sat on the AMI selection team over 10 years ago, ‘The decision to go with TWACS was pretty much entirely based on coverage. We felt that power line [communication] would give more read success than wireless in the Tillamook terrain. TWACS and one other AMI vendor were seriously considered. The other AMI claimed a 97% read success, but that would leave us with 600 meters we couldn’t read.’ “
Aclara: What have you found to be the biggest benefit of partnering with our company?
Ramsell: “Aclara understands that a TWACS administrator’s job can be stressful. As ‘meter traffic controllers’ we find ourselves assessing no-read situations and remediating issues within very limited timeframes – especially those of us who still have a high number of older meter transmission units where data is only available for 18 hours.
“The Knowledge Articles [on the Aclara portal] have been extremely helpful in these harried situations, taking us right to the solution. Under the right set of unanticipated circumstances or surprise attacks, sometimes basic checks can be overlooked during the assessment process. Knowledge Articles serve as helpful reminders on those occasions. At other times, they are great to read through and get ideas for preventative maintenance.
“In addition, Aclara exhibits humility in its willingness to listen to customers and learn from them, enhancing their support efforts. Though utilities are pursuing common goals, Aclara respects the uniqueness of its customers and works together with them to develop site-specific solutions if needed.
“The company also respects the fact that some of its customers have come up with their own creative tools or have already invested in other vendor software to process data. The investment Aclara has made in developing AclaraONE and modules that work with it will help all utilities get the most out of their AMI investment.”
“Aclara has made it clear that they are committed to maintaining and developing its products. Its support team has gone above and beyond, doing whatever it takes to make sure we stay on track. ”
Kim Ramsell, IT Systems Specialist
Aclara: When given the option to change, why did you choose TWACS again?
Ramsell: “The simple answer is that it works. Since implementation, we have seen a consistent 99% read success rate. With this high level of success and reliability, the AMI perspective has become more and more comprehensive and complete, allowing us to better monitor system health and troubleshoot for anomalies. In many cases, we have transitioned from being reactive to proactive when it comes to identifying and addressing site-specific issues. This not only saves time and resources but also helps us ensure the safety and protection of personnel and utility equipment.
“TWACS technology helps us verify and maintain wiring configurations in the field because transponders communicate back on a specific path, essentially telling us where they are. This has a direct impact on our connectivity model, making it more accurate for load distribution, modeling, and forecasting.”
Another reason we continued with TWACS is that we already have a significant investment in the technology, which has more than proven itself over the past 11 years.
“Aclara has made it clear that they are committed to maintaining and developing its products. Its support team has gone above and beyond, doing whatever it takes to make sure we stay on track. As a TWACS Administrator, I appreciate the extra time they take to help me better understand the system, even sharing screens so I can see technicians in action, which is extremely helpful. Knowledge Articles, Aclara University, and the Knowledge Center at the national conference demonstrate the company’s continued commitment to helping its customers succeed.”
Aclara: What do you look forward to most when thinking of Tillamook’s future with Aclara?
Ramsell: “The new tools and perspectives we can glean from AclaraONE. As more and more utilities transition to the new platform, there will hopefully be new and creative ways of using it that will be shared on the AclaraConnect portal and at the conference.
I look forward to tapping into the AMI investment even more. As we gradually upgrade to new meter transmission units, we can take advantage of new functionality in TWACS and monitor field conditions more frequently, including outages and voltages.”
The firsthand opinions of Lake Country Power and Tillamook PUD carry the proven value of experience and careful buying. TWACS is proven and reliable. Utilities that have the TWACS technology tend to keep it, and utilities that are looking for an AMI that really delivers on its promises still come to the same conclusion today that more than 400 utilities have reached over the last 20+ years: “It just works.”