MECOMS streamlines Metering Processes in Belgium
Indexis was founded in 2003 as an independent metering company for the liberalized Belgian energy market. They needed a complete solution to collect, process and distribute metering data from 7 million meters. MECOMS was implemented to run the hand-held terminals of meter readers, various web-based self-service and the underlying system to process and forward all the data. Due to its flexible architecture, MECOMS has fluently grown with the evolving market and the changing role of Indexis.
The liberalization of the Belgian energy market in 2003 imposed a separation between grid operators and suppliers. This required an impartial entity to independently provide reliable metering data to the different market parties. Indexis would take on this role, with a clear mission to collect and process metering data of approximately 6 million gas and electricity connections and to distribute consumption and master data to the different market parties. During the following years, consecutive market reforms would repeatedly redefine the complex role of Indexis in the Belgian energy market. Currently, its activities cover about 70% of the Belgian territory.
Starting from scratch
Chris Vandist, Quality Assurance Manager at Indexis, recalls how Indexis selected its IT solution: “When it dawned on us that the energy market would be liberalized, we put out a European tender. Having received proposals from several renowned software providers, we graded them on several scales. After comparing the results, the MECOMS offer from Ferranti Computer Systems simply stood out as the best solution. Besides the IT aspect, they possessed deep knowledge of the utility business.“
The people behind MECOMS already had extensive experience with the utility business, having completed several projects in the liberalized Dutch energy market. They understood the main challenges of a liberalizing market and were prepared to guide the inevitable change management. A dedicated team was formed to create a solution with portable meter reading devices and automatic processing of all ensuing data. The resulting system built upon Ferranti’s MECOMS product and it has grown with Indexis ever since.
Automatic Meter Reading
Automatic Meter Readings (AMR) of large industrial customers are read every 15 minutes and sent to Indexis on a daily basis. While MECOMS can natively handle AMR, without additional appliances; it was set up to interface with the existing MV90 system to enable a gradual implementation.
Furthermore, in 2004, Indexis was assigned the task to provide consumption data of the 500 largest gas customers to the grid operators. Since Belgium does not have sufficient gas storage to handle a temporary imbalance or shortage of natural gas, this data enables timely prediction of imbalances. This process is completely handled as a core process in MECOMS. The system collects and calculates the most recent consumption values on an hourly basis, and forwards it to the market parties that need it.
Manual Meter Reading
Meters of small businesses and residential customers are read manually. This Manual Meter Reading (MMR) process requires a complex logistical operation. When a meter reader of the grid operator visits a customer for a MMR, the supplier wants to receive the consumption data as soon as possible, to send the invoice to the customer. Ferranti created a solution with handheld terminals where suppliers receive their meter readings within the same day.
Meter readers get their assignments for the next three days on these terminals and use them to register meter readings. They can also capture and transmit any relevant information, such as defects, fraud or a meter‘s location within a building. The terminal performs an initial validation and can communicate on the spot with the Wide Area Network (WAN) of Indexis, through a cellular data connection.
Most residential meter readings are periodical, and the routes to collect them result from the experience accumulated over many years. For unplanned meter readings on demand (MROD), however, routes are generated dynamically. MECOMS takes into account the location of the meter reader and the accessibility of the location, to create an optimal route. The continuous connection of the terminals also allows Indexis to send urgent updates or additional MROD‘s to a meter reader while he is working.
The feedback loop has also improved drastically. Mr. Vandist: “Thanks to the new system, we know much sooner if a customer is absent, and we can immediately send a self-service card or let the meter reader come again. In fact, especially the quality of our meter readings has been increased, due to the on-site validation.“
Manual and automatic meter readings are not the only way for Indexis to collect data. MECOMS offers a broad range of self-service channels. Firstly, paper index cards returned by customers are automatically scanned using Optical Character Recognition (OCR). Secondly, IndexPhone, an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system lets customers report their meter readings over the telephone. Thirdly, IndexWeb, an online web application lets customers enter their meter readings online. In addition to that, web applications allow both customers and suppliers to consult consumptions online. Furthermore, the Service Online (SOL) web applications automatically route customer and supplier complaints to the responsible grid operator.
Processing and distributing data
Despite running on ordinary hardware, MECOMS smoothly processes millions of meter readings and converts them into consumptions. The data is validated using flexible rules, as they are subject to frequent (regulatory) change. Next, MECOMS uses meter certificates to convert meter readings into consumptions. This ensures that readings of a diverse, historically grown metering park are processed consistently. Complex metering configurations, often with local production, are seamlessly taken into account. In addition, MECOMS calculates the contribution that each customer needs to pay for using the grid (grid fees) and allocates energy usage on the level of the suppliers. While being very resource-intensive, these processes do not slow down the application.
MECOMS has continuously adapted to reflect the changing role of Indexis in the market, to implement regulatory changes and to further improve existing processes. For example, the responsibility to carry out manual meter readings had been moved to the grid operators, which created the need to integrate MECOMS with their operations. Meanwhile, EDI and XML standards for market interaction have changed almost every two years. These changes were fluently integrated into MECOMS. Existing systems, such as the hand-held terminals, have been improved to provide meter readers with more accurate scenarios.
Since its inception in 2003, the Belgian energy market has evolved constantly, and so did the role and demands of Indexis. Due to its flexible architecture, MECOMS adapted seamlessly to this changing context, and at a very reasonable cost.