All of you probably know our company. Unikom-Ug is a subsidiary of ANB International of USA. We handle most of ANB' metering business.
Our corporation is one of the largest and oldest companies in Ukraine. Let me remind you that Ukraine was scientific center of the USSR, with much of research in aeronautics, military and other applications done there.
Unikom-Ug is mostly engaged in defense industry. We also completed a number of projects in industrial automation, notably in the power sector. Our experience gives us a unique edge in providing highest quality, made in Europe products to our customers. Well-known manufacturing culture of Ukraine, ready-made communication, measuring and encryption algorithms from the military applications allow us to offer possibly the best products on the market. As in the other areas of Unikom-Ug business, our main objectives are innovation, highest security and reliability.
Yet the products of Unikom-Ug are very competitively priced. Large development expenditures led to a highly integrated design with relatively low manufacturing cost. Thus, we can procure the components of much higher quality than most other producers, notably from China, and because of the lower number of the components still offer very reasonable prices. Needless to say, a smaller number of components provides for increased reliability of the meters.
The important point is that we can always match any price of our competitors, even the lowest one. Integrated design allows us to do so. However, the lower price necessarily means not the best quality. It still remains much higher than, say, with Chinese products but doesn't meet our rigid standards of quality. Each product has its price. In this case, each quality has its cost. While our models with 2-year warranty are priced to win the most competitive tenders, those with 8-, 12- or even 20-year warranty may cost almost two times more. Although all models have life expectancy of 30 years, it is up to the customer to decide whether he wants highly reliable or low-priced product. In our opinion, unless there is a government requirement to award the tender to the lowest bidder, the preference should go for the high quality – even at the higher price. In the end, these products should operate in harsh environment for 30 years. As American astronaut once said, he would not be comfortable flying a space shuttle, whose components were outsourced to the lowest price bidder.
Needless to say, great products have beautiful design. Not only we employ professional industrial designers but also for most products we go through evaluation of our design by outside agencies to ensure ergonomics and perfect modern outlook.
We offer the full range of metering solutions. Let's start from basic electronic meters, simply a replacement for the mechanical ones. Their price is even lower than that of mechanical. Still, there are many advantages. First, they are highly reliable, with no accuracy drift during the lifetime. As all other models, they are well protected against tampering, like energy flow reversal, phase-neutral swap, neutral disconnection or opening of the meter. Next, they offer some additional features, like maximum demand measuring and reading from optical port. Also, there are many upgrade options, notably to multi-tariff, whether time-of-use or slab tariff, and to power line carrier (PLC) automated meter reading (AMR) or other networks.
The PLC AMR warrants more description. In our opinion, this is the most effective way to cut utilities' losses. AMR boards are installed in mechanical or electronic meters and read the rotating disk or pulse indicator, accordingly. Load profile data is then continuously sent through the power cable to the receiver, which is a small device installed at transformer or substation. From there the data is transferred to the central office through telephone line or GSM.
Thus, the utility office can read any meter, simply sitting in his office. No more the customer has to pay by assessed reading and, of course, now he cannot bribe the inspector to change the reading.
Most importantly, utility gets not only the month-end reading, but also continuous stream of load data. The integration period can be set as time, usually as 15-minute interval, or as quantity, commonly as 1 kWh. The information on meter disconnection is also logged and transferred to the central office.
The receiver can hold the load profile data for virtually unlimited period, at least for 1 year. It can service thousands of meters, removed from the transformer to 1km. The data from receiver can be transferred regularly to central office, read on demand from that office by polling, or read with inspector's handheld.
Now it becomes impossible for customer to change meter readings. He also cannot claim absence from home, because continuous meter readings will show that he, indeed, was using electricity all the time but at strangely low rate. By analyzing the consumption patterns, our software generates the report on suspicious customers. Then the inspectors can check these users.
Moreover, the system compares incoming and outgoing energy on each feeder. So, if the customer connects before the meter, the place of such losses can be pinpointed with high accuracy. Illegal connection can be easily terminated by inspecting such place.
As an additional benefit, PLC AMR allows introducing multitariff system with mechanical meters. Actually, consumption is divided by tariff zones at the receiver. There are 4 tariffs, definable by workdays or weekend and holidays. Each season of the year can be attributed different tariff, and during the day tariffs can be changed at hourly intervals.
AMR also collects data on disconnection of meters, providing for fast checking of tampering by consumers. Combination of maximum demand and disconnection data allows spotting possible fraud very reliably.
PLC AMR is a standard feature of our electronic meters. But let me point that it works even with existing mechanical meters. Installation of AMR boards is very easy – in fact, we'll make a board of specific shape for each type of mechanical meter case you're using. It is extremely effective and low-cost solution to drastically reducing the utility power losses.
Another very useful solution is a DB meter. Usually the utility experience two particular problems. One is that customer has uncontrolled access to his meter. Another is that he can connect the supply before his meter, thus bypassing it. DB meter eliminates both.
It looks like a common distribution board. One feeder comes in, and from there each customer takes his supply. However, all customer meters are installed inside the DB. Actually, only measuring units are installed there, while LCD can be located in a convenient place, like, for example, near the elevator. Card reader can also be installed there for prepaid operation. Each customer can view his reading by scrolling or entering his apartment' number.
Thus, customer consumption is measured not at the entrance to his apartment, but at the zero point, at building' entrance. DM meter measures incoming and the sum of all outgoing energies at the same time, preventing any possible fraud. Now customers can steal only from each other by connecting to the neighbor' supply. This, however, doesn't affect the total billings.
This system is not only highly secure but also convenient, taking less space than many meters. It is more reliable, easy to read or to connect to AMR.
I would like to also describe our multifunctional meters, commonly used for industrial customers and substations. They measure over 70 parameters, including per-phase active and reactive energy, current, maximum demand, voltage, power factor, frequency, load profile and a host of other values. This information is stored for the 12 months. Without doubt, these are the best multifunctional meters on the market. We took care to incorporate in them every feature we found in other meters: of Landis&Gyr, ABB, Schlumberger, and others. If some feature is not there – just let us know, and we'll do it for free. Importantly, our multifunctionals cost 4 to 20 times less than those of Landis&Gyr, ABB, etc. Of course, the reason is that our products are based on newer technology, and our development expenses are thus lower. In fact, we offer standard 8-year warranty on multifunctionals, and extended of up to 20 years. The lifetime is 30 years minimum.
Let us have a quick look on PM Communicator software. PM here stands for Power Meter. It is used to read the multifunctional meters. It can be installed on inspector's laptop computer or Palm handheld. The latter is a hand-size computer with large screen and host of other services, ranging from organizer to GSM or phone modem. It is not expensive and, actually, costs less than a regular handheld. Communicator can be also installed at utility' office for quick view of the meter data.
FILE menu allows saving and exporting of the downloaded data. It can be then transferred to utility' database – either an existing one, for which we provide data conversion software, or the database we install. You can see the latter in Power Point Elproject presentation.
Have a look at the MODES menu. DATA READOUT allows for reading compatibility with any AMR or handheld supporting standard IEC1107 protocol. Not all the data can be received in this mode, but just some basic values. This is because IEC doesn't specify the protocol on register level, and every manufacturer implements it a bit differently. We often are asked to provide compatibility with existing AMR or handhelds. This is usually not a problem but it really doesn't make sense to use old-type handhelds when we supply an inexpensive and modern ones.
See the OPTIONS menu. We can connect to the meter by numerous ways. This can be fixed AMR, of RS232 or RS485 types. Or PLC network. We can also support SCADA/Modbus connection, although this is not a good solution. SCADA was used when phone lines were expensive and unavailable in many places. Now phone or GSM modems are much cheaper and offer more functionality. Actually, GSM is quite cheap today and you can even use the connection during nighttime, when GSM charges are very low. Certainly, there is no need to sit in the office during the night – the computer will poll meters or concentrators automatically. You can program the polling schedule.
So, you can connect to the meter with phone, GSM or industrial – that is, 2-wire – modem. Of course, it is not necessary to install a separate modem in each meter. Many meters can be connected to concentrator through PLC, and from there we can link them to central office with phone or GSM modem. Of course, we like to sell more modems but actually you need only one per substation. Additionally, you can access the meter with handheld from the optical port. By the way, concentrators also have optical port, so inspector can read it manually, if, for example, phone line is down.
Now in MAIN PM CONTROLS we can see the current situation: active and reactive demand, voltages for each phase and frequency. Then, there are Totals: import and export of both active and reactive energy. You can switch the meter is import/export or import only mode. In import-only, it will log reverse energy as imported, too.
There are also two Maximum demand indicators, for active and reactive energy, with time/ date stamps. These are totals since the inception or since the last reset. Max demand for each month is stored separately.
Also, there is a number of ID's in the meter. One is Manufacturer's ID, which is preset at factory and is not alterable. MEA number is the utility' own and programmable number of the meter. There is Customer ID as well. Trip number refers to how many customers used this meter: for example, when it was installed at one place, then moved to another, or when the apartment tenants keep changing. Check digit is a service field for verification of parameters.
From this screen, you can read the meter by pressing Get current PM state button. Again, this function can operate either with laptop or handheld, or remotely, through the network. Inspector can also program the Meter ID's.
Of course, only authorized personnel can do this. The meter has 4 access levels, represented by different passwords: for reading, reset, changing of the parameters, including real-time clock, and the fourth is reprogramming meter ID's. Each time the meter is accessed, the inspector's individual number is stored in the log, so that the utility can perform access violation audits quite easily.
Then, it is possible to reset the totals by pressing Clear globals button. And separately you can reset (Clear) MDI. Actually, there is not need to reset MDI, as this value is stored for each month separately anyway. This option was useful in mechanical meters, and here it's just traditional.
On GLOBAL PARAMETERS screen we see the same information on active and reactive energy import and export, but now by tariffs. We'll discuss tariff structure in details later.
ADDITIONAL PM CONTROLS screen allows to effectively program the meter. First, we can see Current date and time. Although the clock is highly accurate, it requires adjustment ones in a few years. So, we can do it by pressing Set PM time/date to button. Inspector don't need to enter the time manually, the software will automatically synchronize meter clock with his handheld. When the country uses daylight savings time, we can set it on the same screen. Here we can also program the weekend: Friday, Saturday or Sunday.
Current tariff shows what tariff zone the meter is currently operating in.
Current billing period is a number of the current month. But here we calculate not as calendar year but since inception. For example, if the meter was installed in November, then second billing period is December, and twelfth – October. This function is required because meter stores information for the last twelve months, and regardless of the time of year, reaching the twelfth billing period is the last opportunity to read the data for the first month, before it will be replaced.
Look at the Billing date window. Residential customers are usually billed on the end of the month. But high-volume users are billed on any day the utility choose convenient to regulate its cash flow. For example, billing date can be set to 10 th , or 15 th , or whatever other date of the month. In this case, billing period starts not from the first of the month but from the appropriate date, from 11 th or 16 th in the previous example. Then November 5 will be still 10 th billing period, while the 11 th period will start after the billing date.
This screen shows whether and when totals were reset: time/date of the last clearing of MDI, total registers, billing data for 12 months and load profile. You can also see when tariff structure or real-time clock was corrected. This is information only for the last event, earlier occurrences, if any, are stored in the log and transferred to the central computer during each communication session. Thus, if customer bribes the inspector to change his tariffs, etc, the utility will be able to find out soon, which inspector did it – because his ID is stored during each communication session.
Here is also Temperature inside the meter. You can select what is Overheat at your territory. For example, 30 degrees is high in Alaska, while in Thailand this value should be set to 60 degrees or so. Overheat signals are logged or transferred directly to the utility. Repeated overheats may indicate that the meter has to be relocated. Regarding the operating temperature, IEC prescribes standard accuracy at 24 degrees and set up temperature coefficient for warmer conditions. There are many companies around who advertise their meters as working to 60 or even 80 degrees. What they don't tell you that except for a few most expensive models, the accuracy at this temperature is simply unknown – there is no specification for it. Our meters change their readings very little with temperature rise and we also supply meters with accuracy independent of the temperature up to 65 degrees. By the way, LCD works from –20 to 60 degrees. Out of these limits, it becomes black, but then restored when the temperature is back to normal.
The meter is equipped with 2 batteries. Battery 1 is for running the clock in power-off situation. It should work for at least 15 years. Memory is energy-independent and doesn't require the battery to preserve data for practically unlimited period. Battery 2 is for reading the meter in power-off situation. It is regular AA battery, disposable or rechargeable, at utility' choice. It works for about 1 year with no power. Condition of both batteries is constantly measured and you would know when it is necessary to replace them.
Back to PM parameters. Here you can set an integration period for max demand and load profile, anywhere from 1 to 60 minutes. At standard 15-minute interval, meter keeps one-month record of both active and reactive energy.
Meters may be precalibrated from 57 to 240V. Then, you only need to select the Base voltage to operate the meter at a particular place.
When the meter operates with current or potential transformers, their ratios can be entered so that inspector will see the direct readings.
Event timeout is a very important value. In most power networks, there are many short disturbances: surges of 0.5 second, voltage drops, etc. If recording all of them, the meter log will be jammed soon. You want to filter only significant events, lasting for some time, say, for 10 or 15 seconds. Here this period can be set.
By the same token, utility don't care about overload of 1-2%, or 5% undervoltage. In Over-, Undervoltage and Current overload screen you can select meaningful thresholds, usually at least 10% for overload, 5% for overvoltage and 10% for undervoltage. If the meter is connected through transformers, direct readings are shown, too, in Primary and Secondary windows of the thresholds' values.
Meter contains two relays, one for current and another for voltage links. They can be programmed to switch on overload, overvoltage, overheat, underfrequency, etc. The utility can also disconnect them remotely, or inspector can do it through his handheld, for example, when repairs are required.
The meter can be set in Import-only or Import/export mode. This feature is very convenient, allowing to move the meter to another category of customers.
There are two opinions on how it's more convenient to view LCD. Some prefer it to be scrolling, while others like to change readings by pressing button. You can program the meter for Manual or Automatic menu scroll. In the latter case, scrolling delay can be set to 2 or 4 seconds.
Actually, the meter calculates over 70 values. It is not expedient to show all of them on LCD, as it would take inspector forever to read them. So, LCD MENU CONFIG you can program, which values you want to be displayed on LCD. There are two levels, one is Base menu for the most common values, and the other is Alternative menu for more advanced reading. Inspector can switch between these modes by holding the button for a short time.
RATE ARRAY menu provides for tariff functions. In our meters, they are extremely versatile. An unlimited number of holidays can be programmed – just press on the appropriate day in the on-screen calendar. The system supports two weekend days. Of course, there is no need to program each meter separately: tariffs can be loaded from a file, and it's enough to assign meter to the appropriate tariff' group.
The meter supports 4 time-of-day and up to 7 slab tariffs, and even both of them at the same time. In the Tariff scale window, you can see programming of daily tariff structure. Tariffs can be set separately for workdays and holidays in hourly intervals. Each tariff is described as certain percentage of the basic rate. Also, the tariffs can be structured by Seasons. Each month can be attributed to one of the four seasonal Tariff groups. Thus, it is possible to define tariffs by workdays, weekend, holidays and seasons in hourly intervals. This should suit any requirement but if you want it differently we can surely do it for you. We support any conceivable calendar, including lunar ones and those where holidays are not fixed.
Regarding slab (Step) tariffs, they are also defined in percentages to the basic rate.
PHASE INFO screen contains vector diagram. It is bi-directional, and can reflect phase reversal. This screen also shows voltage, current and power factor for each phase, as well as frequency. Active, reactive and apparent energy data is shown for each phase, covering all four quadrants.
In the case of prepaid meter, SMARTCARD INFO screen provides the relevant data. Cost tariff window allows a quick confirmation that tariff rates are not altered. Let me point that we don't see any possibility of illegal changing of meter data. However, we're always aware of such outcome, and provide all the means to detect the fraud.
Account info shows the prepaid balance left (Account), date and amount of the last recharge (Update).
You can also view recent transaction history, including dates and amounts of recharges. This information is transferred to the central computer for analyzing abnormal patterns and possible attempts of fraud.
BILLING DATA screen presents data on import and export of active and reactive energy for the last twelve months. This data can be shown in 2- or 3-dimensional diagram, scalable from one month to one year. It can be also shown in table format for analyzing and transfer to the utility.
LOAD PROFILE screen shows the data on active and reactive demand for the current month. Integration period can be set from 1 to 60 minutes, with 15 minutes being a common value. The size of the log is then sufficient for one month of readings. This data can also be presented in 2- or 3-dimensional diagram or in a table.
EVENT LOG is an important means to detect possible fraud. General events window offers information on meter disconnection, reset of total registers, clock and tariff correction.
Communication events window supplies data on what inspector and when accessed the meter. By comparing this info to General events log and considering access level used, the central computer provides report on abnormal or illegal activity and identifies the suspected inspector.
Meter recognizes various tampering attempts: reverse energy flow, neutral off, CT bypass and meter open conditions. Reverse energy is properly calculated as import. Removing the neutral doesn't prevent proper operation of the meter. For CT bypass, central computer offers and approximation of the energy stolen. Fitting to IEC standard, the meter is immune to direct current, magnet and surges. Unlike many other meters, it is not reset by series of fast turning on/off.
CURRENT PM STATUS screen provides inspector or engineer in utility' office with a glance on the meter operation. It shows tampering, overheating, overload, voltage and frequency, and condition of the batteries.
Again, let me stress that our multifunctional meters is the most advanced product on the market, with any options you can find in other meters. They are extremely reliable and have numerous communication capabilities. And the price is very much reasonable.
Now let us pass on to the prepaid meters. There is an obvious reason why utilities want it – to ensure collections. This brings forward security as the most important point. Our experience in military encryption allows introducing the same algorithms in the meters, based on RSA1024 standard. Actually, the security of our meters is about 2 billion time more secure that that of bank transactions. Actually, banks can employ relatively low-grade encryption because all ATM's and credit card machines are connected to bank computers, allowing for immediate verification. Although it makes sense for some tens of thousand ATM's, such network would be unmanageable with millions of meters. Of course, installation of meter network is a lucrative business and we would be happy to implement it for you, if you decide to go with it. However, it is not a reliable or cost-effective solution.
Most companies offer protected memory and smart cards. Right, they're not expensive but, on the other hand, they offer zero security. It is possible to easily copy such cards with cloning device, which is sold on Internet for some 800 dollars.
Disposable cards is another option. However, it is sufficient to recall that the same cards used by telephone companies are commonly counterfeited. In fact, many used cards permit restoring the balance by simply keeping them in the freezer for a few days. Disposable cards are necessarily cheap, and in security, like in almost everything else, you get what you're paying for. Reliable security cannot be provided at a few cents per card.
Disposable SAM cards are a late development. SAM refers to Security Application Module technology. True, it is not possible to copy such cards directly. But then, meter knows how to communicate with them. It means that the code could be broken by using card emulator with the meter. There is a still simpler option. Software in the older processors can be read, using special equipment. It is not possible with new processors. But the new ones will become old in a few years. Then, any skilled engineer will be able to read the software, stored in the meter processor, and to find out the algorithm. This is a clear breach of security.
Disposable cards are in the end more expensive, because many of them need to be printed, instead of a single rechargeable card for the consumer. Utility can easily avoid the costs of establishing infrastructure of vending stations by selling them to merchants. They will be eager to install vending stations as an attraction for their customers, just like ATM's or credit card' machines, and operate for only a small commission. Each vending machine can be connected with the utility computer through phone lines, and the cost of such network to utility is almost nil.
Another argument against disposable cards is that smart cards are a natural medium for two-way communication. During recharge at point-of-sale (POS), new tariffs and downloaded on them, while the consumption and service data is read and transferred to the utility. Service data may include info on load profile, maximum demand, power outages, energy flow reversal and meter disconnection. Two-way data transfer is extremely useful, relieving utility from the necessity to connect meters to a network. However, if the utility still wants to go with disposable cards, we can support them and our meters will allow for easy conversion to the use of rechargeable cards when you discover than disposable cards are inconvenient or became counterfeited.
Keypad meters are actually even worse than those with disposable cards. First, they are extremely inconvenient. Just imagine an elderly person trying to key in more than a dozen digits on a small keypad. Then, keypads are vulnerable to vandalism: they can be destroyed with match fire or even with chewing gum. This is not a problem with card-operated meters, which have a very narrow card slot. Besides, it costs less than a dollar to replace a card reader, while vandalized keypad requires replacing of the expensive case.
Most importantly, keypad offers zero security, even with any algorithm. The problem is that user knows the key sequence. After a number of purchases, he accumulates, say, a few dozen keys. For each he knows the amount, date and time of recharge and transaction number. The key is usually based only on this data, sometimes adding a pseudo-random number of simple generation algorithm. By analyzing these keys with special software, it is possible to find out the key' creation algorithm. There is a number of other more complicated ways to do it. Knowing how to create the keys or tokens, anyone can counterfeit them.
Now, we use processor cards. They offer many advantages. First, they are extremely secure. Second, the transaction employs open-key procedure, where there is no permanent sequence. Thus, customer cannot find out the keys. Third and extremely important, such card provides for relatively easy upgrade.
The problem is that every kind of security can be possibly cracked. The issue is to make cracking it more expensive than the possible benefits. Right now the cost of breaking our encryption is about 1.2 million supercomputer hours, which is far in excess of any gain hacker can get from recharging the cards. However, computers become more powerful. Today 30-year-old encryption is usually very simple to break. But the meters suppose to operate for 30 years. Thus, we have to be able to upgrade the security every few years. And processor cards provide just this. Please note this as an extremely important point. You don't want to buy prepaid meters, which any schoolchild can hack 5-10 years from now. Possibility of upgrading both meter and card' software is a necessary requirement.
The security is very good, of course, but what about physical force? For example, if someone steals POS, he will be able to go on recharging the cards. This is true with other manufacturers but not with us. Each vendor has a cashier's card. He purchases it from utility, or the latter distributes it to its own offices and POS. Cashier's card stores a certain balance, usually sufficient for 1-2 weeks operation of POS. When customer wants to recharge his card, the balance is transferred from cashier' to his card. When the cashier's card is empty, the vendor gets a new one.
Cashier's cards are impossible to copy or to recharge illegally. They are prepared in a highly secure, bank-grade office of the utility. In effect, the one who program cashier's cards is creating money. All kinds of security measures must be taken to prevent unauthorized access. For our part, we install eye recognition system at the utility' computer, allowing only two persons (that is, in case one of them is absent) to recharge cashier's cards.
Even if stolen, POS will work only until the cashier's card is finished. Then it becomes useless. Of course, POS has other security features, like access card, PIN and fingerprint recognition.
Cashier's cards offer an added advantage of improved cash flow. With prepaid cards, utility receives about one month of advance revenue. But with cashier's card, merchant also needs to buy his cards in advance. He even usually keeps two cards to avoid interruption of recharge. Thus, the total amount of advance payment the utility receives almost doubles with introduction of the cashier's cards.
PM SMART CARD TERMINAL software can be used on computer or installed in cash- or credit-card-accepting ATM for stand-alone operation. The system operates with special, highly secure card readers. It is designed to work as a “black box”, when cashier needs almost no training to use it.
By the way, it's impossible to provide interoperability with other cards or terminals. If other devices are able to offer the utility cards, it means, anyone can reprogram the cards using standard protocols. And the utility has no protection against illegal recharges.
To Start work session, cashier insert his access card and enter PIN. After acknowledging his identity, the system prompts him to insert cashier's card. This starts the operation. Operator' name and session time is displayed for convenience purposes. If the system is not used for some time, it logs off to prevent unauthorized usage in operator's absence.
Cashier's (SAM) card info is also shown, notably its number and owner name. This can be a name of independent merchant, if utility choose to offer any shop to install POS. Cashier also sees a balance left on his card, and know when to order a new one.
When customer comes, operator insert that user' card. By pressing Open client card, he can view card data, including its number, owner's name, amount left on the card and date of the last transaction. There is also info on the meter, in which this card was used last time: its number, owner's name and address, tariff group and balance left. It is possible to allow using the card with any meter or restrict its usage to a single meter. For security purposes, such restriction is not important.
If this card is new, a replacement, for example, or was used with a different meter before, operator will be prompted to enter customer' details: his name, address and tariff group. He can also view transaction history of the client and verify his tariff structure. All this information is stored on the card. During communication with central office, data on all recharges, as well as information uploaded from the cards, is transferred to the main database. Such communication can be performed by central computer polling the vending stations or they can initiate the calls once a day, for example. Although not necessary, communication session can be established for each recharge.
Add energy button allows the cashier to add kWh or money to the customer' card. He can then verify the transaction by pressing Reload data. Cashier' card balance is visibly deducted for the amount transferred to consumer's card. Operator can Close the card then and return the card to consumer. He can perform Cheque print operation to offer receipt. Certainly, the form of receipt is customizable.
When user inserts the recharged card in the meter, the balance is transferred in full from the card to the meter. Card balance is zero after that. When going to recharge the card again, user should insert it in the meter first to receive most up-to-date information on consumption, balance, clock accuracy, battery condition and possible tampering. Balance' data allows to process refunds, if required by customers moving out.
Although it is possible to provide visual or audible, even voice, alert of low balance, it's generally useless because there's little chance a customer will see or hear it. We use a different way. When the balance reaches certain minimum amount, the customer is disconnected. He then has to go and press button on the meter, thus acknowledging that he's aware of the necessity to recharge the card. After that, the energy is switched on again for certain period, like 2 or 3 days, during which time the customer has to pay. No disconnections take place during or immediately before holidays or during nighttime.
The system can also manage fixed, standby and minimum charges and bad debts. The same card and POS can be used for prepaid water and gas meters we supply. It can be also employed to manage the load, disconnecting customers, exceeding their demand or monthly consumption allowances. However, we suggest charging them punitive tariff on excessive demand, which is a more gentle option.
In many instances, it is politically impossible to require prepayment or to disconnect a poor consumer. Our meters can deal with this situation by operating in credit mode. Here the customer pays not beforehand, but for the previous month' consumption. For example, he has to pay for January consumption up to the 20 th of February. His monthly credit can be also limited by certain amount, after reaching which the customer has to pay regardless of the date.
If he doesn't pay before the due date, utility has two options. It can either disconnect the consumer or turn on the “friendly leakage” feature of the meter. In the latter case, customer will not be fully disconnected but allowed a small consumption, say, 50W. This will allow him a couple of bulbs or a small fridge running and prevent conflicts with the utility. On the other hand, such losses are minimal compared to power grid' losses.
To prevent user' tampering with the prepaid meter, it can be produced in split version, where measuring unit is installed at the pole or in electric room, and LCD with card reader – at customer' premises.
A recent development replaces cards with real-time power line carrier network. All meters are connected with PLC to concentrators at substations, and from there by telephone or GSM modem – to central computer. If customer doesn't pay on time, he's automatically disconnected by signal, sent from the office system to the meter.
This system is highly secure because communications are encrypted with DES or RSA algorithms. Security can be easily upgraded on request. There are no cards to hack. No need for POS. Customers don't have to change their habits. They pay as usual by check or at utility' offices – but now they will be effectively disconnected if not paid their bills on time.
This solution is actually more cost-effective than any system, based on highly secure – and thus expensive – cards. It's also much easier to manage than multi-POS network. The important point for the utility to look at is high level of data encryption during communication. Any weakness in the algorithm will open the possibilities to illegally open relays. Our experience is secure data transmission for military purposes provides just such assurance.
Our central office software performs numerous functions, including card initialization, polling of POS and concentrators, connection with remote offices and database management. The software suite runs under Oracle and we suggest using Alpha servers with Solaris, although PC with Windows OS can be also employed, of course, with less reliability. The system is totally hacker-proof, with database server physically isolated from the remote access computer. Data is continuously archived on local and, for added security, on remote computer at another location. DBMS structure provides for extreme reliability and is highly scalable. In fact, it can manage tens of millions of users, providing for countrywide extension. Each meter can be accessed and reprogrammed or disconnected without leaving the office computer.
During the installation, we set up the utility structure: how many main offices are there, what are the functions of remote offices, what is the firm' hierarchy and security procedures. Elproject is not off-the-shelf software but highly customizable set of modules, which we adjust to perfectly suit customer's needs.
Let us review the ELPROJECT software, on which you can see the presentation. Actual database is stored separately to avoid possible hacker attacks. The entire job is performed by secondary database. In its turn, it operates with field offices, automatically supplying each of them with copy of that part of the database, which is relevant to their activity. Field offices can be connected by leased lines, regular phone lines, Internet or updated via CD's by mail.
The important part of security is assigning a role to each operator. The role describes those fields of the database that this user can access. For example, there's no need for customer' service personnel to work with warehouse records, review meter status or engineering reports. Alteration of tariffs is preserved for authorized personnel, etc. All operations are logged along with operator' ID's, allowing to review personnel integrity with ease.
The software keeps a file on each meter: when it was delivered, what is the warranty period remained, what were the claims, when recalibration needs to b performed, what was the accuracy during the last test, and so on. Utility keeps track on meter' status: delivered to the warehouse, scheduled for installation, programmed, installed, de-activated, etc. There are many reports, specific to the meters, like, for example, probability of the need of recalibration, considering power quality analysis in the area where it is installed.
For each user, the system keeps a huge track of data, consisting of more than 240 fields, including his personal details, consumption history, load profiles and correspondence.
The system provides every conceivable report and we guarantee to add for free any reasonable reports customer may ask for. To make the things even easier, we provide script language so that utility programmers can make various reports themselves. The pre-set reports include engineering analysis, accounting support, customer service and, importantly, discovering abnormal patterns, whether in consumption or billing, as the traits of possible tampering.
Of course, if utility wants to continue using its existing billing software, we provide export of the data, collected from meters. However, there is no need to fear complexity of our software. In case of any problems, we can remotely dial into your system and correct its operation very soon. In almost all instances, the software will just reboot the computer to re-establish normal operation. We provide lifetime free phone support and our engineers will be happy to educate your staff. And extensive training is offered at no additional cost.
Besides power meters, we also supply prepaid water and gas meters, which can be used with the same infrastructure. We not only supply the products but also offer extensive training and supervision, including installation control. Although our products are very easy to operate and generally the experience of utility' engineers is quite sufficient, any kind of project consulting you may ask for will be provided. Taking into the account reasonably low prices and extreme durability of our products, Unikom-Ug is clearly the best party to deal with in the field in power metering.
Thank you for your attention and I would like to welcome your questions.