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NEWS FEATURE: Empowering Tonga

Itron’s OpenWay Riva solution is an IoT solution for smart utilities and cities that enables true interoperability and distributed intelligence to meters, grid devices and sensors at the edge of the network

 Tongatapu Island with the capital city Nuku' alofa
Tongatapu Island with the capital city Nuku' alofa

TPL has set a target of 100 per cent renewables including biomass, solar and wind by 2020

Itron's OpenWay Riva IoT solution will be deployed to more than 15, 000 customers on Tonga's main island of Tongatapu

Last year, Itron, a world-leading technology and services company, announced an agreement with Tonga Power Ltd (TPL) to deploy its OpenWay Riva IoT solution to more than 15,000 TPL customers on Tonga’s main island of Tongatapu in the South Pacific Ocean.


TPL needed a solution that would help them manage the challenge of increasing renewables going forward: meeting smart grid needs both today and into the future.


Tonga, like many Pacific islands, has limited energy resources. Its primary generation source today is diesel. As a part of its smart island long-term goals, TPL has set a target of 100 per cent renewables including biomass, solar and wind by 2020.


Itron’s OpenWay Riva solution is a utility and smart cities IoT solution that enables true interoperability and distributed intelligence to meters, grid devices and sensors at the edge of the network, making it unique in the market.


The platform’s computing power enables utilities to run multiple applications in edge devices and make near real-time decisions in the field, instead of solely collecting data for billing and back-office analysis.


In addition to smart metering, utilities can push various applications to edge devices, including revenue assurance and theft detection; high impedance detection and other safety diagnostics; outage detection and analysis; transformer load management; demand response; and management of distributed generation at the sub-transformer level.


OpenWay Riva technology combines radio frequency mesh and power line carrier communications on the same chip set, which allows the system to select an optimal communications path based on network operating conditions, data attributes and application requirements.


With these adaptive communication capabilities, deployment of network infrastructure is easier, faster and less costly. It also greatly reduces the amount of time and effort needed for upfront network design and propagation studies.


The OpenWay Riva solution which has been deployed at TPL includes Itron’s OpenWay Riva smart meters; Cisco connected grid routers (CGR) as well as back-office data collection software, including Itron’s OpenWay Operation Center and Cisco’s IoT Field Network Director.


Using this solution, TPL will also be able to monitor and manage the integration of renewable energy into the electric grid, ensuring greater grid reliability and improving energy security.


“TPL will initially use the solution to reduce the cost of disconnections, and optimise revenue protection,” said Paul Nelsen, Itron senior director of smart grid solutions for the Asia-Pacific region, “Itron’s OpenWay Riva IoT solution enables TPL to monitor the health of its grid to ensure it is being run efficiently and detect theft and meter tampering.”


With the solution, TPL can quickly and cost-effectively disconnect customers who are unable to pay, and longer term can offer pre-paid accounts rates to therefore reduce revenue loss and provide customers with regular usage updates so that they can manage their energy costs, making progress payments and reducing disconnections.


“Longer term, the utility is looking into integrating distribution transformer monitoring to be able to balance energy to locate losses which are not going through a meter,” he added.


TPL is using Itron’s managed service offering Itron Total Outcomes, to manage and maintain the network. This made installation much faster since TPL didn’t have to set up IT systems on site and Itron handles all data collection as a service. Itron implements the solution using a software- and network-as-a-service model, which reduces the cost and time required to set up the solution.


“Installation of the network equipment was relatively simple, requiring just a few days of training for field crews in the installation of pole-mounted field area routers. Installations of Itron’s OpenWay Riva meters is the same as a standard meter installation,” he added.


TPL carried out most of the network equipment installation itself with some assistance from Itron’s professional services team.


The Itron OpenWay Riva meter includes a remote disconnect switch that can be activated over-the-air. If a customer moves and needs their electricity service to be discontinued, this can be completed remotely, saving money on truck rolls and trips to the customer premise. Similarly, when a new tenant needs to have their electricity service activated, this can be done quickly and efficiently.


The deployment implementation has been completed. Itron’s professional services team with currently working with TPL to establish the Operations Phase.


So far, says Nelsen, the customer has been impressed with connect/disconnect features, and even though the system has only been in production for a short time, it is already being used to provide remote connect and disconnect services to customers.


“As with most smart metering installations, customers begin to realise additional benefits because of the availability and ease of access to additional data. For example, TPL has started to analyse the additional voltage data available through the OpenWay solution and has been able to identify areas for potential improvement,” he said.


This system has so far enabled TPL to provide a more reliable service to its customers, especially with the growing integration of renewables, which can be intermittent. Customers have received more accurate and timely bills, and with regular usage updates are able to manage their electricity consumption far more effectively. Disconnect and reconnect has been far more prompt thereby reducing bad debt and improving customer satisfaction rates. It has also enabled prepaid energy accounts and thus reducing costs for TPL.


In the longer term, TPL will also activate the functionality of the system to monitor network performance (voltage sag/swell) therefore reducing equipment failure due to voltage issues; as well as power outage notification on the network enabling faster resolution.





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