For a sector of the economy like Utilities – which powers society-at-large – access to energy data is critically important.
Metrum, an energy solutions provider and a Schneider Electric Master EcoXpert and Technology Partner, is keen on how digital can be leveraged to help energy markets evolve in a world increasingly reliant on data.
“As more utilities and large companies in the power measurement market look to become digital and connected, data availability is becoming increasingly important in the energy industry,” explains Lucas Oliveira, managing director at Metrum. The company’s home market, Brazil, is the largest economy in South America and 12th in the world as of 2021. And according to a 2021 U.S. Energy Information Administration report, Brazil ranked 8th in total energy consumption in 2019.
According to Oliveira, when it comes to utilities and large companies, information must be available and on hand at all times. This is where customers turn to Metrum for help.
Oliveira explains that Metrum started in power measurement, then moved into power management. “Along the way, we’ve had Schneider Electric on our side to support us on the product supply side as well as training and partnership in general,” he says.
Metrum, which has been a Schneider Electric partner for 17 years, provides a range of solutions spanning the energy lifecycle. Their offers include EcoStruxure™ Power Monitoring Expert, Schneider Electric’s award-winning power monitoring software that helps customers gain valuable insight into electrical system health and energy efficiency.
Over the years, as Metrum’s name became recognized in the market, customers started sharing their data availability concerns and needs with the company. When a major Brazilian utility reached out, Metrum decided to add data availability to its power management approach.
Metrum has expanded its business to include automation, control, protection, and IT specialties. The company has experienced extensive growth in the last years, from 30 people in 2014 to 170 people today.
The value of access to reliable energy data at any time
Utilities and large industries must make fast and structured decisions to remain competitive. Oliveira thinks that the most basic requirement for boosting competitiveness is guaranteeing access to data at any moment.
“People always want their data in their hands, at any time, and immediately,” he says.
According to Oliveira, data availability is a term that became popular with the cloud computing boom of the last decade. Still, it has always been a top-of-mind concern in the industry.
“Data availability is an everyday priority for utilities,” he says, emphasizing that in the energy industry, data availability must be understood as “good” data availability or data quality.
“What this means is that data not only needs to be on hand when needed by an organization, but it must also be reliable and accurate,” he says.
The right information instantly available in one place to make the decision-making process much faster and simpler is a strong business case for many of Metrum’s customers. So, when meeting with customers, there is little discussion on the value Schneider Electric energy management solutions provide―it is simply understood.
“Customers can centralize their data and make it all available in one place, with advanced automation features―Schneider Electric’s solutions are a no-brainer,” Oliveira says.
The primary challenge for customers, according to Oliveira, has been how to ensure the availability of quality data.
Putting the pieces together to help ensure data availability
Oliveira explains that ensuring data availability requires looking at the whole infrastructure that comprises a solution.
“In developing solutions, we must consider what data is being recorded in the software and if that is the data the user needs to see,” he says.
Oliveira points to three foundational pieces of the puzzle for building a solution that helps ensure availability.
The first critical piece he highlights is the metering solution.
“Metering is important because you can only manage what you measure,” he says.
Organizations should keep regulations in mind for the metering solution, he explains. For example, revenue metering regulations in Brazil require a backup meter installed in parallel with the main meter. This is to prevent any risk of a meter getting damaged and the utility losing revenue data, according to Oliveira.
The next piece is software, which is necessary for centralizing the data. According to Oliveira, an essential aspect of the software component is software redundancy, which is a high-priority focus in the market now.
“There are many approaches for software redundancy, like fault-tolerance and reliability engineering and self-adaptive and self-healing programs,” he says.
Oliveira explains that a simple software redundancy approach is duplicating the application into two or more servers and making it switch between servers in case of a fault—without impacting the end user.
The last piece, the network, is essential for getting the metering solution and software to communicate. He explains that there are different approaches for redundant network design topologies. Still, most follow the principle of creating more than one pathway between two nodes to avoid isolating a node because of a failure in a single link.
“Customers also need to consider lost packages in network communication, the format in which the data is coming, and the decisions the user aims to make with the data to modulate, calculate, or program the best information delivery possible,” he adds.
Oliveira says that even with these foundational components in place, one piece of the puzzle remains: data accuracy.
“You have to ensure that this centralized data is correct and that it is being displayed most efficiently,” he explains. “As they say, garbage in, garbage out.”
Building relationships and earning trust with customers
After a 20-year relationship, a utility and one of the largest energy distributors in South America recognized Metrum as a trusted advisor. So, when the utility needed a technical solution to address specific data availability issues, it turned to Metrum.
“We try to cultivate partnerships with our customers and not only a 'buy and sell' relationship,” says Oliveira. “This means that we are there for the customer, to understand their problems and offer a solution.”
Metrum’s experience as a technology partner in the Schneider Electric Technology Partner Program made it possible to develop solutions that integrate with EcoStruxure Power Monitoring Expert software, which was already implemented at the customer’s site years earlier.
They first implemented the EcoStruxure solution to help with power quality management. When Brazil started regulating power quality indicators, EcoStruxure Power Monitoring Expert provided the flexibility to develop custom reports to calculate these indicators.
Over time, Metrum made additional integrations to support the customer’s distribution operation, monitoring and controlling energy demand requirements. EcoStruxure Power Monitoring Expert also provided the agility to add revenue metering management to the platform.
But the customer had a critical requirement: the system needed to be redundant.
“In order to comply with their needs, we brought IT specialists and software developers to find a solution to their demands. And in that opportunity, we developed a tool that can connect two EcoStruxure Power Monitoring Expert servers into a single database,” says Oliveira.
He explains how the solution ensures mirrored information, acting as a watchdog to migrate from one server to another in case of a server fault while maintaining the same URL access to the end-user.
According to Oliveira, the tools help bring efficiency to the utility’s operations. The solution's success also reinforced Metrum’s status as a trusted advisor.
How being a Technology Partner and a Master EcoXpert helped Metrum
“First, we were only able to deliver this kind of customization because of the experience and the access of information we have with the Schneider Electric Exchange platform and the communication with Schneider specialists,” he says.
He cites the second reason: Exchange allows companies to offer solutions globally.
“Exchange allows us to strategically share the tools that help meet our customer’s requirements so that other customers around the world with similar issues can leverage the tools as well,” says Oliveira.
Two tools developed by Metrum during their engagement with their large utility customer were created as EcoStruxure Power Monitoring Expert modules: PME 2X – Redundancy Tool and Manual Data Input Tool. Metrum recently uploaded these tools on Exchange.
These tools provide hundreds of companies with access to a solution born of a need from a customer that trusted Metrum to help solve their challenges.
So, are you ready to collaborate to help solve some of the most pressing challenges in the power industry?