Ravalli Electric Cooperative (REC) was the first co-op in Montana, formed in 1936 during a national movement to ensure farmers and ranchers received the same access to electricity as residents in the big cities. Today, REC has more than 10,000 members living and working across a varied landscape of grassland valleys, national forests and mountain ranges in the state’s southwest region.
“We’re a member-owned utility that is fully committed to the community we serve,” said REC’s Staking Supervisor Levi Dunn. “As membership needs change, we must evolve to meet the demands and continue delivering value.”
For years, the cooperative benefitted from using a power line carrier (PLC) system to automate the meter-reading process, but problems occurred as the system aged. Communications modules failed more frequently which forced technicians to make repeated trips into the field to obtain meter reads.
“It got to the point where we had around 400 manual meter reads each month due to failures within our PLC system,” said Dunn. “As it started to eat up more staff time and resources, we knew we needed to make a change.”
Making the smart move
REC transitioned away from PLC technology to improve meter monitoring and get more control over their network. The co-op needed a system capable of communicating with meters across geographically diverse terrain and streamlining processes for operational efficiency with fast, accurate meter data collection.
After testing and researching a variety of systems, including ones that delivered meter data over mesh networks, REC decided to go with the smart utility network from Sensus, a Xylem brand. The team, impressed with the system’s long range, accuracy, speed and outage management capabilities, soon moved forward with a full deployment.
“Since deploying, we have eliminated three to four days of meter readings per month with another two days of savings expected once our meter change project is complete.”
A new season begins
As part of its new infrastructure, REC installed the Sensus Stratus® and iCon A™ Generation 4 electricity meters. The system runs on the point-to-multipoint Sensus FlexNet® communication network, which allows access to real-time data over a secure two-way network.
“Since deploying, we’ve had outstanding read rate success across our Sensus meters,” said Dunn. The real-time speed and accuracy of the new system has also helped REC advance their outage management and response efforts. “We used to be reliant on our members to notify us of outages,” said Dunn. “With the Sensus FlexNet system we are alerted to outages and can begin dispatching crews, often before our members have called in.”
Meter alarms, such as low voltage and overcurrent, can also identify potential issues which allow the cooperative to proactively address problems and ensure a high quality of service to members.
With the Sensus FlexNet system we are alerted to outages and can begin dispatching crews, often before our members have called in. – Levi Dunn, Staking Supervisor, Ravalli Electric Cooperative
Ravalli Electric is also helping members meet their individual energy efficiency goals by providing hourly read data. “Our members can go online and get accurate, timely updates on their usage,” said Dunn. “With the ability to monitor their hourly usage, they’re able to make adjustments to curb their energy consumption.”
“As a leading global technology company, we have a powerful role to play in advancing sustainability,” said Colin Sabol, President, Measurement and Control Solutions at Xylem. “We proudly salute customers who leverage our technologies, innovation, data and expertise to help reach their own sustainability goals.”
With the full deployment nearly complete, REC is already taking steps to get more value out of their network. The co-op recently leveraged the Sensus phase detection application to determine the distribution phase of each meter and proactively balance grid load.
“Being able to expand our network and add new applications is a huge benefit,” said Dunn. “We’ll continue to learn from actionable data to stay on the cutting edge and provide great customer service for our members.”
Migrate away from aging PLC system to improve efficiency
Smart utility network anchored by the Flexnet® Communication Network
Utilize the Sensus smart utility network to enhance member services and tackle sustainability goals