The Traditional Argument for Advanced Metering Infrastructure
The following article shows the many reasons a utility would move to advanced metering infrastructure. As the times and technology have changed, so has the concept of AMI. As UMS — or Utility Metering Solutions — keeps pushing the boundaries of technology, even AMI is becoming an outdated concept and terminology. As we continue to tap into the Internet of Things (IoT), the “infrastructure” part of AMI is really no longer needed. At UMS we don’t believe in “off the shelf” AMI systems. Every utility has their own specific needs, and we take pride in offering true solutions to those needs. Traditional advanced metering infrastructure is making way for an entirely new way of metering known as Advanced Metering Programs. The information below provides a real-world view of why a utility would move to advanced metering — but UMS is taking AMI to a new level of efficiency and affordability. Please enjoy our article on The Traditional Argument for Advanced Metering Infrastructure.
Your utility is likely losing hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue due to your outdated and fragmented water, gas, or electrical infrastructure.
Fortunately, there is a viable solution that can help you reduce expenses, improve customer satisfaction, and make your utility company more efficient.
Upgrading to advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) makes electric, gas, and water utilities more efficient, responsive, and future-proof. That’s because AMI:
- Provides real-time data on utility consumption for accurate data measurement and more efficient billing
- Identifies issues before they become costly problems
- Reduces diagnostic and response time
- Reduces expensive overhead costs
- Gives customers access to their usage, so they can make better choices on how they consume their resources
- Helps municipalities shape the future of their infrastructure based on irrefutable data
Simply put: implementing an advanced metering infrastructure is the single most important step you can take toward building more efficient systems.
In fact, the cost and resources associated with an AMI upgrade all but pay for themselves within 4-7 years for most municipalities.
Municipalities and utility companies often first consider upgrading to an advanced metering infrastructure for convenience — AMI removes the need to manually read meters. This means faster readings performed with fewer resources.
In other words — more productivity with less cost. That alone is a compelling reason to upgrade to an advanced metering infrastructure.
But there’s so much more than benefits to billing that an AMI upgrade delivers for municipalities and utility companies.
In fact, the benefits AMI delivers to billing was first introduced as automatic meter reading (AMR) in the 1980s. AMR is an older technology and is the predecessor of AMI. AMR’s sole purpose was to collect basic meter-reading data in a more efficient manner.
As a result, AMR benefited only a select few departments — namely metering and billing. Yes, AMR greatly improved billing accuracy and reduced the time and expense required to manually read and bill meters. But it is not the most efficient way to manage large infrastructures.
Advanced metering infrastructure, on the other hand, uses incredibly advanced technology that meets the growing demands of utility companies — and their customers.
It does all that AMR did — and more.
At a glance, AMI can verify power outages, perform remote-service disconnects and reconnects, facilitate prepaid metering, and much more.
All of the data gathered by advanced metering infrastructures are made available — in real time and on-demand — to utility companies and their customers. The result? Improved operations and better customer management.
In other words, AMI completely transforms how utility companies operate and perform.
No wonder, then, that a growing number of utilities and municipalities in the country are investing in advanced metering infrastructure — including utilities that had originally invested in AMR systems.
An Advanced Metering Infrastructure Turns Meters Into Data-Gathering Sensors
AMI meters aren’t just meters — they become sensors that gather important information that make your processes more responsive — and effective.
These sensors provide a host of benefits, including lowering operating costs, improving customer satisfaction, preventing issues before they turn catastrophic, and helping you make data-driven decisions that deliver a higher ROI.
Advanced metering infrastructure meters deliver real-time alerts for water, gas, and electrical utilities when, for example:
- Power is lost or restored
- Potential tampering has been identified
- Limits (in water and electricity) have been exceeded
- Thresholds of energy consumption have been surpassed
These alerts offer a multitude of benefits. For example, an increase in typical water or gas usage during a set time period could signify a possible leak. With AMI, your utility company is made aware of the issue immediately. You can then determine if the issue is, indeed, a leak — and can address the problem promptly.
Not only that — these smart meters make it possible to collect and deliver data daily, several times a day, or even as quickly as every 5 minutes.
It’s why smart cities use advanced metering infrastructure. Smart cities rely on the incredible amount of real-time data delivered by AMI sensors and devices to create more efficient cities — and improve quality of life.
There is no other system out there that provides this level of immediacy in data that smart meters in an advanced metering infrastructure provide.
Diagnose Issues in Real-Time — Without Sending Out Technicians
Identifying the root cause and location of issues can be a resource-intensive challenge. Often you’re reliant on end-users and customers who provide partial — and often incorrect — information.
Your only course of action is to send out a technician to diagnose the problem.
This causes a delay in response time — and tremendous overhead costs to your bottom line (from labor to fuel costs and more). Plus it increases customer frustration. By the time they’ve reported the problem, they’re already annoyed and looking for a fast remedy.
It doesn’t have to be this difficult — or costly.
Advanced metering infrastructures provide you granular-level data on your entire infrastructure — from an easy to use dashboard. You can monitor your infrastructure as a whole — and home in on individual end users in an instant.
Here are some examples of how AMI completely transforms your approach to diagnosing — and responding to — service issues and disruptions:
- Water Pressure: When a customer reports low water pressure, AMI meters can test that water pressure in real time from a convenient account dashboard. There’s no need to send someone out to test in person.
- Electrical Outage: AMI pinpoints the cause of an outage — before customers had the chance to call in the outage. That means you can address the problem quickly and keep your customers informed on progress.
- Gas and Water Leaks: When a customer calls suspecting a gas or water leak, you can confirm their assumptions over the phone — in seconds.
The list of ways advanced metering infrastructures modernize your approach to diagnostics is virtually endless. Plus, AMI works for your entire customer base, from individual homes to corporate buildings, entire subdivisions, and more.
AMI helps you manage and optimize distribution and operations, so you can address outages and leaks in real time — minimizing disruption and service to all of your customers.
AMI generates a more consistent and accurate billing system, resulting in fewer recording errors and fewer customer complaints.
Data intervals can be specified in as little as 5-minute increments. This gives utilities the flexibility to customize billing periods based on a customer’s preference — rather than based on set meter-reading schedules.
Yet even with these different billing periods, AMI automates the process on your end, so there’s less oversight needed, and fewer man hours required.
Advanced Metering Infrastructure as a Preventative Tool
AMI can identify issues before they grow into larger problems. This type of foresight — rooted in data and analytics — saves you money, resources, and headaches. From leak detection to pressure regulation, temperature monitoring, and more, advanced metering infrastructures give you far more control over every component of your infrastructure — so tiny problems never become catastrophic.
- For example, AMI meters can identify water pressure drops and will report immediately if any water is flowing back into the system. Faster reporting means faster response time — helping you avoid unwanted contaminants from compromising your customers’ drinking water.
- AMI helps you spot possible gas and water leaks faster by showing unexpected spikes in consumption at certain hours of the day among end users.
- An advanced metering infrastructure can also save you — and your customers — money with instant water-leak detection and real-time monitoring of unexpected spikes or voltage drops in electricity usage.
- Leaks are one of the most common causes of water waste. Unfortunately, these leaks often go unnoticed until it’s too late — costing you thousands of dollars. You can’t expect to truly know how serious your water-loss problems are if you only get monthly meter readings. AMI meters detect leaks instantly — and notify you before that leak becomes more costly and problematic.
Remote Connect and Disconnect
Advanced metering infrastructure enables the utility to remotely connect and disconnect electricity, gas, and water.
This helps utilities turn meters on and off depending on occupancy, non-payment issues, and pre-paid service offerings — without sending a technician out in the field.
This is an incredibly cost-effective solution for handling transient neighborhoods (such as college towns or low-income neighborhoods) where bills often go unpaid.
It’s also a powerful tool to have in the event of emergency situations — such as to support firefighters and first responders who need utilities turned off at the scene of a catastrophe. Before AMI, these types of services would have required the scheduling of service appointments — often days in advance. With AMI, remote connect and disconnect happens in an instant.
AMI and Conservation
More and more utilities are implementing an advanced metering infrastructure to meet conservation efforts and address environmental issues particular to their region.
For example, in California, droughts are a common occurrence. AMI alerts water utilities of any leaks that could cause an incredible burden to their already-stressed infrastructure. Advanced metering infrastructures can also identify individual customers who are exceeding their minimal usage order during droughts.
Implementing AMI can also reduce your carbon footprint (and fuel costs). There’s no longer a need to manually read meters or roll a truck out to investigate customer-identified problems. Everything is done automatically. Trucks are rolled out after AMI meters provide data to diagnose the problem. Plus, an advanced metering infrastructure improves your dispatching accuracy, ensuring that your trucks and crew report to the proper site — always.
That equates to not only lower fuel costs — but happier customers.
Assess and Improve Your Current System
AMI meters contain an incredible amount of data that doesn’t just improve your day-to-day operations — this data helps you improve the efficiency of your system for years to come.
It’s not uncommon for utilities to operate oversized and inefficient equipment — equipment installed years ago. This outdated equipment can be a source of incredible cost and headache.
It can also be difficult to see how, exactly, these outdated pieces of equipment impact your bottom line.
AMI can identify these inefficiencies — and detail how they impact your operations. Through irrefutable data, you can determine what type of capital improvements are necessary — and why. This improves your ability to successfully request capital improvements by providing data and transparency to the agencies and municipalities who need to approve your request.
Plus, AMI improves your ability to dispatch repair crews more precisely. This reduces outage duration, minimizes the inconvenience experienced by customers, and reduces the number of man hours and resources required to diagnose and restore problems.
Empower Customers with Better — and Easier — Data
Advanced metering infrastructures deliver an impressive amount of data — data that can be passed on directly to your customers.
Your customers can use this information to better understand why their bills are higher one month and lower the next —particularly when they insist they haven’t changed their consumption habits.
This level of data transparency essentially removes your utility as the gatekeeper of information. And with greater transparency comes far less responsibility on your end in explaining bill discrepancies to customers.
Beyond personal usage information, AMI also helps you and your end-users identify and confirm potential leaks.
In the event of a power outage, they can see real-time data on the cause of their outage and an expected timeframe when the outage will be remedied.
Smart meters will empower consumers to better manage their utility costs and respond to pricing incentives that encourage both conservation and load shifting to off-peak periods.
AMI also gives customers the ability to enter pre-pay billing plans designed to help them manage consumption and costs and avoid defaulting on bills.
In fact, many utility companies report improved revenue collection and cost recovery by implementing pre-pay billing programs. That’s because pre-pay billing programs reduce billing fluctuations, and remove the prospect of unanticipated high electric bills and service disruptions.
Benefits to your customer service reps
Customers aren’t the only ones who benefit from the convenience and real-time data AMI provides.
Your customer support team benefits, too.
Customer service reps have immediate access to each consumer’s consumption data. This helps minimize disputes when a customer complains about a high utility bill — reps can give that customer a detailed picture of how much water, gas, or electricity that customer uses — and when. In other words, they can investigate, diagnose, and solve a customer’s complaint in seconds. Not with what-ifs or conditionals, but with data.
How to Upgrade to an Advanced Metering Infrastructure
As smart and intuitive as AMI is, it’s crucial that you carefully consider with whom you choose to upgrade your infrastructure.
Many utility companies, for example, have an advanced metering infrastructure, but don’t know how to use all that data. Their investment is going to waste; they’ll struggle to transform their processes.
UMS, on the other hand, invests our resources until we’re certain our clients know how to fully manage — and benefit from — Advanced Metering Infrastructure.
Fortunately, AMI is becoming easier to use and maintain, thanks to providers such as UMS.
These third-party providers host AMI software applications on their own servers and make them available to customers through the web. Customers — such as utility companies — need only to log into a web-based secure portal to access the application.
This means you don’t have to worry about the hassle of hosting complex technology on your own. Nor do you have to manage the backend machinations. Through third-party providers, like UMS, accessing your data becomes incredibly easy — as easy as logging into any other secure online site.
As Utility Metering Solutions helps to make AMI far more accessible and user-friendly, we’re finding more and more municipalities are discovering just how powerful this type of system can be. Utilities that analyze their new-found data are able to deliver services in a more efficient manner to their customers — while saving significant money in the process.
Advanced metering infrastructures allow utilities to conserve more resources, enhance customer satisfaction, increase employee safety, and improve financial performance. A properly designed and operated AMI solution should be able to deliver all of these benefits — without negatively impacting end users.
AMI is a critical platform — and building block — for increasing efficiency, performance, and customer satisfaction.
Some of the benefits utilities see with an advanced metering infrastructure include:
- Reduced costs for metering and billing
- Fewer truck rolls
- More accurate billing
- Fewer customer disputes
- Improvements in operational efficiencies
- Lower outage costs and fewer customer inconveniences
- Due to faster restoration and more precise dispatching of repair crews
- A decrease in your carbon footprint
And that’s just a small sampling.
We often hear clients say that implementing an advanced metering infrastructure has helped them achieve their overarching mission of providing reliable, safe, and efficient services — at a competitive price — to their customers.
AMI has become such a standard that we see a growing number of utilities jump directly from manual meter reading to AMI, skipping right over the traditional second step of moving first to AMR.
As more and more cities strive to become ‘smart cities’, the demand for advanced metering infrastructures will only continue to grow.