BOONE, N.C. — Had Hurricane Florence caused more power outages in and around Boone, Diana Wilcox ’91 would have known about it immediately from her laptop at home, just as she will know if there is an outage during the first snowfall of the season.
“It was a situation where we prepared for the worst and were grateful that it didn't happen,” said Wilcox, business and technology applications analyst and customer service supervisor with New River Light and Power (NRLP) Co., a nonprofit operating unit of Appalachian State University. NRLP serves residential and commercial customers within the Town of Boone and the surrounding area.
Wilcox would have known because she was able to monitor NRLP’s Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI), which was installed in 2017.
AMI is an integrated system of smart meters, communications networks and data management systems that enables two-way communication between utilities and customers. According to NRLP, the investment in AMI means the company has “one of the most technologically advanced power control systems available.”
Ed Miller, general manager of NRLP, said the total cost of the upgrade was just over $2 million, a cost NRLP was able to justify because the AMI system allowed the company to reduce staff while improving restoration time — the time it takes to restore power.
“Had there been an outage, the AMI system would have alerted NRLP staff immediately and displayed the meters involved in the outage on a map so that crews could have quickly seen where the problems were,” said Wilcox, who worked closely with the AMI vendor during installation. “This has been really helpful to the crews in finding the root cause when we do have outages and fixing them quickly.”
For every outage, whether due to snowfall and/or ice, a hurricane, a car accident or even wildlife, NRLP is notified of the outage through its AMI system. The system can detect the number of meters impacted, length of outage and can even aid in the location of the device that needs to be repaired.
According to the Department of Energy, in addition to identifying and isolating outages, the AMI system has the ability to automatically and remotely measure electricity use, connect and disconnect service, detect tampering and monitor voltage.
New River Light and Power’s Diana Wilcox explains the new features available to NRLP customers after the AMI upgrade.
“As we see the electric utility industry change, NRLP is now more than ever aware that our customers expect more from their utility,” Miller said. “The ability for a customer to monitor and control their consumption is becoming more of a norm than the exception. With data being updated every 15 minutes, customers can see through our customer portal how their usage changes over the course of the day without waiting until their next bill to see their consumption.”
The company said the AMI system benefits NRLP customers by improving billing accuracy, helping troubleshoot problems with high bills and aiding with improving energy efficiency. Customers can compare their usage with that of a typical home with similar characteristics, providing awareness that, Miller said, “is key to understanding our energy usage habits and what we can do to improve efficiency.”
“There was also a sustainability aspect in that the AMI meters are read, connected and disconnected remotely,” Wilcox said. “This means that we no longer have to roll trucks to perform most routine meter-related tasks.”
Miller said future features the AMI system will offer include prepaid service, high-use notifications and energy saving tips, all of which will be offered in the beginning of 2019.
Additional features, such as time of use rates — pricing that reflects the cost of producing electricity at different times of day based on demand, enabling customers to save money during hours when electricity is more expensive — will be offered when NRLP changes energy providers in 2022.
About Appalachian’s New River Light and Power
For more than 100 years, Appalachian State University’s New River Light and Power (NRLP) — a nonprofit electric utility operated by the Division of Business Affairs — has provided power to Western North Carolina residents. Today, NRLP serves nearly 8,500 residential and commercial customers who reside in and near the town of Boone. In January 2022, the utility will begin purchasing its electricity from Carolina Power Partners — a partnership that opens greater renewable energy opportunities. In partnership with Appalachian’s Office of Sustainability, Facilities Operations and Renewable Energy Initiative, NRLP has assisted with various energy efficiency projects across campus, including installing solar panels and providing funding for the Broyhill Wind Turbine located on Bodenheimer Drive. The utility holds the American Public Power Association’s highest Reliable Public Power Provider (RP3) designation for providing reliable and safe electric service, and approximately $650,000 of its budget is reserved annually for contributions to Appalachian’s general scholarship fund. Learn more at https://nrlp.appstate.edu.
About Appalachian State University
As the premier public undergraduate institution in the state of North Carolina, Appalachian State University prepares students to lead purposeful lives as global citizens who understand and engage their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all. The Appalachian Experience promotes a spirit of inclusion that brings people together in inspiring ways to acquire and create knowledge, to grow holistically, to act with passion and determination, and to embrace diversity and difference. Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Appalachian is one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina System. Appalachian enrolls more than 20,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.
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