Rio Grande Electric adopts satellite asset monitoring

20 June 2003 - Rio Grande Electric Co-operative, Inc. (RGEC) now uses satellite communications to monitor energy conditions across its rural energy distribution network. As part of its new enterprise energy management system, the Texas-based electric utility identified satellite as the most cost-effective way to communicate with the intelligent energy meters being installed at the company's remote substations.

The new energy management system uses a network of ION meters and software from Victoria BC-based Power Measurement to help Rio Grande Electric control the cost, quality and reliability of the power it offers to its customers.

RGEC provides electric service throughout 20 counties across Texas and New Mexico, but according to Mike Wade, technical services manager for RGEC, the remote locations made a traditional telephone link to these meters impractical. "We realized that the high cost of running a phone line to each of these remote substations, plus the ongoing fees for using each line would not present an affordable solution," said Wade, "and because cell phones aren't supported in most of these locations either, a satellite link was the clear choice."

To outfit each substation, Power Measurement worked with RGEC to pre-assemble new electrical panels, equipping each with several ION 7350 meters (one for each feeder) communicating through a single ION 7600 or ION 8500 revenue-accurate meter. The revenue meter acts as a gateway, collecting and passing data from all feeder meters over an Ethernet link to a satellite radio.

RGEC installed completed panels at twelve of its most remote substations, and then equipped the main headquarters with a PC workstation running Power Measurement's ION Enterprise energy management software. The meters continually monitor electrical conditions at each substation, and communicate by satellite via high-speed Ethernet link to the software. With this arrangement, RGEC technicians can instantly check the status at any substation; a procedure that previously required a long drive of several hours each way.

The new system provides detailed power quality information, and includes an alarm feature that instantly notifies key personnel of any power outages, sags or swells. Plus, the meters automatically record consumption as interval data logs, and distribute this information as reports, both to the co-operative's power supplier and to the local independent system operator, ERCOT. Together, this detailed information helps RGEC to continually review and improve its engineering processes, while providing its rural customers with a reliable source of quality power.

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