MultiSpeak® is evolving.
The widely used interoperability standard began in 2000 as a fairly limited specification developed by NRECA, electric cooperatives, and vendors to allow automated metering platforms to “talk” to billing systems.
Over nearly two decades of development, expansion, and refinement, the standard has been integrated into dozens of enterprise software systems, making it a cornerstone for distribution optimization and the industry standard for interoperability.
It’s now used by more than 800 utilities—cooperative, investor-owned, and municipals—in 21 countries.
“As the electric industry becomes more complex, the value of having an interoperability standard has never been more crucial,” says Alvin Razon, senior director of distribution optimization for NRECA’s Business and Technology Strategies unit. “We are constantly working on updates and improvements to meet the needs of our evolving industry.”
Its latest iteration, MultiSpeak 5.0, is an ambitious foray into the critical fields of cybersecurity, distributed generation (DG) integration, microgrids, and demand response. New online resources help utilities tie critical business and operations tools into what Razon calls an “ecosystem of connectivity solutions.” And a new, innovative online testing harness and digital certification are being built as part of the MultiSpeak cybersecurity tool.
Troy, Missouri-based Cuivre River Electric Cooperative has been using MultiSpeak products since 2005.
“When it comes to integrating use of different software packages, this is one of the best things we’ve had available,” says Rick Didion, the co-op’s manager of engineering and operations. “It touches every piece of software that we own.”
“MultiSpeak has reduced the need for us to convert data to reach the desired results,” adds Anna Pudiwitr, supervisor of engineering and operations customer service representatives for Cuivre River Electric. “We’re now able to import and analyze data more easily, which, in turn, saves us time responding to our members’ requests.”
Didion says their MultiSpeak-enabled platforms help get up-to-the-minute information to members who use the co-op’s energy management mobile app.
“Sharing data among different platforms, we can provide more timely information to members who use our mobile applications,” he says. “That means they have more control over how they use energy and manage their service accounts.”
Didion sees the potential of MultiSpeak to develop a paperless system for field crews. Outage tickets, crew management directives, timekeeping, and resolution reports would be dispatched and compiled via mobile devices in the co-op’s service vehicles.
“We’ve already done a lot to reduce the paper flow,” Pudiwitr says. “The engineering and operations teams see the value of getting the information to the right place at the right time.”
For WIN Energy Rural Electric Membership Corp., in Vincennes, Indiana, MultiSpeak applications that facilitate advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) communications between co-ops and their meters were key to launching a prepaid metering program.
Processes that once required expensive service calls are now automated, reducing the need for deposits from members on tight budgets, says Gregory Wolven, the co-op’s director of engineering.
“It’s a management tool that’s making participating members extremely happy,” he says. “They can put $50 on their meter and replenish the funds by phone or mobile device.”
Wolven, who chairs NRECA’s MultiSpeak User Advisory Group, was one of the original cooperative leaders involved in developing MultiSpeak. He first got involved to address challenges co-ops faced in coordinating computerized staking and customer information system management.
“Every time one of our vendors would change their system, our custom integration would break,” Wolven recalls. “I’d have to pay both vendors to come up with workable solutions.”
He says the expansion of vendors adopting MultiSpeak protocols is giving utilities flexibility in deploying new equipment or adapting existing components to accommodate new services, like time-of-use rates and cost of service for distributed energy coordination. Wolven notes that WIN Energy will soon be able to compare retail rates and wholesale power costs as well as plan potential incentives for conservation.
“We’re looking at real-time load flows,” he says.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Irma in September, Excelsior Electric Membership Corp. in Metter, Georgia, worked with the National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative (NRTC), using MultiSpeak interoperability protocols, to quickly develop applications to assist 150 crews with repairs across its service territory.
“Information showing up on control center screens was color-coded and symbolized so dispatchers instantly knew a crew’s capabilities,” says Doug Lambert, NRTC director of technical solutions. “A separate crew assigned to damage assessment had its members designated in green, and one dispatcher was assigned to keep track of them.”
That led to more efficient use of crews, better communication, and faster overall restoration, as circuits on the co-op’s system were reenergized.
“They had over 18,000 meters out, and within 72 hours they had 100 percent restoration,” Lambert says.
Another MultiSpeak feature that’s affecting day-to-day operations is the ability to compile and analyze highly technical data and present it in a nontechnical manner for member services, field operations, and administrative services staff.
“MultiSpeak has given us the capability to connect systems for various purposes without having to custom-write a lot of bridges to address different needs,” says Chris Hamon, CEO of Branson, Missouri-based White River Valley Electric Cooperative. “We need equipment that people in our offices can use without asking a lot of questions. That means fewer calls to the information technology department, fewer calls to the vendors and manufacturers, and fewer calls to co-op communications.”
MultiSpeak could be a key component in consolidating various data streams on single screens in co-op operations or dispatch, particularly as more utilities adopt it, he adds. “More participation, size diversity, and capabilities will mean more flexibility. That means more value for the users and the industry.”
“America’s electric cooperatives came together with our great software and hardware partners to develop this interoperability tool, MultiSpeak,” says Jim Spiers, NRECA’s senior vice president for Business and Technology Strategies. “It helped control the exorbitant cost of building out one-by-one IT systems and saved the prohibitive expense of adding staff to do the work each new step required.”
MultiSpeak is now central to handling the “big data” essential to management, operations, and planning to meet the demands of consumers committed to controlling their energy use, Spiers says.
“MultiSpeak will help consumer-centric electric co-ops and other utilities meet the challenges offered by a changing power grid.”