Traditionally, utilities install fxed-network advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) to collect meter reads for billing. These systems provide at least 24 readings
a day, every single day, allowing utilities to accurately calculate
bills, eliminate estimated billing and improve revenue collection.
What’s more, customer service representatives can use the
data provided by AMI to answer consumers’ questions. In addition, utilities with AMI systems often offer usage data to
consumers through web interfaces.
There are other ways to get value out of AMI, however.
Utilities can use AMI data in critical analyses to determine water balance, gather information related to meter performance,
and implement programs to educate consumers as to the best
time to use water.
DATA ANALYSIS REDUCES COSTS
Every utility is concerned with managing non-revenue water,
and AMI data can play a crucial role in calculating true water
loss. By comparing time-synched, total consumption data measured at the customer’s meter to how much water is pumped
into a distribution system by the master meter, it is possible to
calculate how much water is lost from the distribution system.
Once the utility understands this potential water loss in the distribution system, it can initiate additional analyses to establish if
the loss is the result of inaccurate metering, non-metered consumption, unauthorized consumption, or distribution leaks.
Utilities can use AMI data to determine when water meters
should be replaced. Water meters that have been in service over
a long period tend to under-report water use. By analyzing the
performance of a meter over time using data collected by the
AMI system, the utility may see a pattern that indicates the meter is under-reporting and revenue may be lost to the utility.
Sometimes a water meter will stop working altogether. When
this happens, the AMI system will proactively alert the utility
that the meter is reporting zero usage. Without AMI, it is diffcult for utilities to spot non-working meters in a timely fashion.
Once the utility completes analyses of AMI data to establish
the true level of water loss in a system, it can hone in on the
location of leaks and evaluate their severity as input to feld-maintenance planning. This may involve notifying customers
of potential on-premise leaks or adding leak-detection devices
to the distribution system to locate the underground leaks.
Analyses of consumption data provided by AMI can trigger
alarms to alert customers when the system detects constant use
or use that does not conform to the usual. For utilities that want
to recommend specifc methods of conservation, such as lawn
irrigation in the evening when water demand is lowest, the AMI
data analysis can generate messages to alert customers to peri-
ods of low demand. Finally, when a water use restriction or ban
is in place, all customers above the target-use threshold can be
alerted. The utility can also be notifed should a visit to the cus-
tomer’s premises be required to enforce the high water use ban.
AMI AS A SERVICE
For some utilities, the capital expense outlay to build a
fxed-network AMI system is prohibitive. The up-front spike in
costs associated with installing a fxed network precludes them
from implementing AMI, even when these expenses can be
capitalized over time. In these cases, utilities have few options
— they must rely on manual meter reading or on drive-by systems. Both of these options limit the amount of data collected
by the utility and consequently reduce fexibility to implement
systems to improve customer service and utility operations.
In the service model, however, the AMI vendor builds out
the fxed network system and maintains ownership of the
hardware, head-end system and any additional software necessary to operate the system. The customer receives access to
the head-end software and owns all its meter data.
The advantage of this approach is that the burden of operating the network is no longer the utility’s concern. The AMI vendor guarantees certain criteria such as read rates and network
performance. The utility pays fees for monthly service and for
installation of meters on the network. This way, costs are kept
relatively low up front, are consistent over time and can be
planned over the life of the network. In addition, utilities can add
upgrades — such as leak detection — to the network at any time.
As AMI vendors develop better applications for analyzing
meter data, the business case for AMI will improve, extending
its usefulness beyond billing to mission-critical applications.
And, with advances in how AMI is deployed, any utility that
wants to take advantage of AMI will be able to do so cost-effectively. WW
About the Author: Todd Stocker is the Director of Water and Gas Product Management for Aclara, a leader in device networking, data-value management and customer communications to water, gas and electric utilities globally.
Circle No. 258 on Reader Service Card
Getting More Mileage out of AMI
BY TODD STOCKER
Utilities can use Advanced Metering Infrastructure to assess meter
performance, determine water balance, and improve customer service.