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Central EMC automates theft detection with integrated AMR solution

Power theft and meter tampering are certainly not new problems for electric utilities. However, the labor-intensive practice of manually monitoring and reporting these occurrences is giving way to automated solutions, as utilities seek to combat costly and potentially dangerous customer fraud.

Central EMC, an 18,000-member cooperative in Sanford, NC, is using data from its advanced metering system to identify stolen kilowatt hours and meter tampering. Prior to installing a power line carrier-based solution from Landis+Gyr in 1997, the cooperative relied on meter readers and field technicians to find and report tampering. Employees used reports generated by its CIS system to manually compare usage at a residence over time if power theft was suspected.

“By automating it, you eliminate a lot of the required time and omissions that occur in a manual process of checking for stolen power,” said Tabitha Whitlow, billing representative at Central EMC.

With Landis+Gyr’s PLC system, Central EMC has continuous contact with each meter on the system. This allows the utility to view automated alerts for meters that start or stop reporting usage.

The cooperative is in the process of enabling MultiSpeak web services integration between its CIS system (SEDC’s UPN® software) with Command Center™, the operating software for Landis+Gyr’s advanced metering solutions. When the integration is enabled, Command Center and UPN will automatically share information about each consumer account on their system.

According to Victor Burns, engineering technician at Central EMC, the sharing of information will enable creation and automated maintenance of virtual disconnect groups that include all accounts that have a meter but are not supposed to be reporting kilowatt usage. If usage occurs, the system automatically flags the meter on the Command Center Dashboard,” Burns said. “That way, we only have to maintain the account information in UPN, and the account status information is updated automatically in Command Center.”

In a year’s time, Central EMC identified 26,000 kWh of stolen power based on reports generated by Landis+Gyr’s AMR system. The cooperative was also able to identify six stolen meters in their service territory.

Stolen meters are easily identified in Command Center because these meters are identified as not reporting. Upon confirmation that the meter has been removed, the meter number is placed in a “tamper” status group where it will raise an alert to the Command Center Dashboard if it again begins to report usage.

In all, the utility stands to save more than $180,000 per year in lost revenue and employee time spent dealing with theft and tampering because of the integrated advanced metering and CIS system. This is one reason why Whitlow says Central EMC has gotten stricter with its tamper policies and fees.

“Most people are aware we have an advanced metering system, but they don’t realize what we can see,” Whitlow said. “But after they pay a tamper fee once, they usually learn their lesson.”