The original business cases for implementing an advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) typically focused on the cost savings that could be achieved from avoided truck rolls and the end of manual meter reading. Now more than a decade since smart meters hit the industry, utilities are learning that the value of AMI goes far beyond logging energy usage. Advanced meters are end-point sensors that give utilities granular information about system operations and customer energy usage that allows utilities to operate more efficiently and enables a fundamental shift in how utilities interact with their customers. Engineers, data analysts, product developers, customer service representatives, and people throughout the organization are digging into the data, pairing it with other data, asking more questions, gaining insights and making data-driven decisions. AMI is allowing them to improve customer service, automate processes, protect revenue, improve power quality, verify outages, increase reliability, evaluate asset health, and more.
The focus of this reort is to document how utilities are leveraging their AMI networks and data to improve their operations and customer service. These six key themes emerged from the many peer-to-peer discussions and meetings:1. AMI is an evolution.
AMI is more than an upgraded meter. While the initial business case will be built around several specific value streams, familiarity with the technology and the data (i.e., what the data it is telling you about operations) means that the value you are able to achieve will evolve over time. Even the most seasoned users of advanced metering talked about what they are learning as they become more familiar with the data and what they are planning to do with their systems in the future. So plan for the future—spend the money upfront to build a system that is flexible, scalable and capable of addressing future needs and demands.2. AMI does more than billing and rates.
Yes, the data generated by AMI enables utilities to accurately bill their customers and design rates that can save their customers money, but it is more than a billing device. Smart meters create a network of sensors that provide visibility into how the system is operating at each endpoint. And when the data is paired with data from other systems or even external sources, it provides even more insight into how the system is operating. This is information that utilities did not have before AMI, and it has opened up opportunities for increasing operational efficiencies and improving reliability.3. AMI is a catalyst for new customer relationships.
Customers want convenience, digital communications (i.e., text messages and internet access to data and information) and services customized to their preferences. AMI is helping to rewrite the utility’s relationship with customers by giving it the information and capabilities they need to meet these expectations and keep pace with other industries. AMI enables proactive customer communications, new products tailored to the individual, and real-time communications and services that customers have become accustomed. Being able to say “we know your power is out” is just the beginning of a new relationship with your customers.4. Full-scale deployment and integration with other systems increases the value of AMI.
While each utility will have to decide the best approach for deploying their system— based on cost, priorities, and operating considerations—some value streams can only be achieved by having smart meters at all locations. In addition, integrating AMI with other systems like outage management, DERMS, or customer systems presents new opportunities for automating processes such as service orders and customer alerts. Your meter rollout may take several years depending on the size of your system, and you may have decided to start with high turnover meters as a first step, but know that full deployment of AMI unlocks its greatest value.5. AMI enables utilities to shift their operating paradigm from reactive to proactive.
Watching and analyzing data from the meter can tell a utility if there might be an equipment problem that could lead to failure. This allows utilities to proactively plan for and address issues during normal operating hours rather than having to wait for an actual failure or customer call which might require the utility to roll a truck—sometimes in the middle of the night. This increases worker safety, reduces overtime costs, and translates into better reliability and service for customers. Proactively identifying and addressing issues rather than reacting to customer calls is a paradigm shift for utility operations.6. AMI is worth the cost.
Even though the initial investment in AMI is significant, when utilities in the Working Group were asked if AMI was worth the cost, the resounding response was yes! And they say that knowing that it requires investments in time, equipment, and resources that often go beyond the initial cost of an AMI system. AMI upends an organization. It requires new organizational structures, processes, skillsets, and integration with legacy systems that can be challenging. Each utility must decide where AMI can provide the most value for their organization and customers and start the journey there.
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