Modern utilities here and abroad depend on advanced metering infrastructure systems. Power providers in the U.S. maintain more than 64 million smart meters, according to data from the Energy Information Administration. An estimated 88 percent of these devices are residential installations, allowing utilities to easily monitor usage among the millions of Americans who draw power from the national grid.
However, AMI adoption is anything but universal. Utility companies in some regions have yet to embrace AMI systems and still rely on manual meters. This obviously impacts operational efficiency and can result in service issues, especially when adverse weather events occur. Only 25 states incentivize the adoption of AMI technology, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. While support from the state might be nice, it's not essential for successful AMI adoption. Even smaller utilities with meager resources can join the bandwagon and install advanced field equipment that can ease service delivery and facilitate effective outage response efforts.
The benefits of AMI technology
Smart meters are a relatively recent technology, according to The Edison Foundation Institute for Electric Innovation. In 2007, only 7 million of these fixtures existed. Now, there are enough to serve more than half of the households in the country. There are expected to be as many as 90 million smart meters in the U.S. by 2020. This indicates a significant increase in adoption. How did this development unfold? The Department of Energy and other federal and state agencies stepped in to promote the technology. The American Investment and Recovery Act, passed in 2009, was particularly impactful in this regard, allocating funds for a nationwide smart electrical infrastructure project that included the installation of millions of smart meters. This legislation rolled out as expected and has helped drive adoption.
Early adopters have seen substantial results. First off, many have seen serious cost reductions related to meter-reading and service switching activities. The simple act of sending personnel out into the field to read meters manually or move services can result in extra operating expenses. With smart meters, this process involves merely logging into a backend system and pinging field devices remotely. Additionally, the platforms that accompany smart meters often integrate with billing software, significantly streamlining the accounting process and ruling out human tabulation errors.
Of course, smart meters are especially useful in outage events, as office personnel can easily test their functionality and report the results to linemen, who can subsequently respond to service interruptions. On top of that, these devices come equipped with tampering detection tools, making it easy to see meters involved in instances of electrical theft.
"AMI adopters saw meter reading costs drop anywhere from 13 percent to 77 percent."
Together, these improvements streamline the operation, improve meter monitoring and billing accuracy and free up field crews, giving them more time to perform preventive maintenance. For many early adopters, these cost savings trickled to the customers. In fact, those getting their power from smaller utilities saw the highest reductions. Overall, utilities that adopted AMI technology soon after the passing of the American Investment and Recovery Act saw meter-reading costs drop anywhere from 13 percent to 77 percent. Service vehicle miles drive and fuel consumption rates fell anywhere from 13 percent to 59 percent.
Adopting AMI technology
With these benefits in play, it's easy to understand why so many utility companies have embraced smart meters. However, the implementation process isn't exactly easy. Utilities looking to harness the benefits of AMI technology must navigate a multistep workflow. The first two phases involve conceiving a metering strategy that not only benefits the utility but also falls in line with the modern regulatory climate, according to the consulting firm McKinsey and Company. This plan should also take into account future growth, as the operation will surely transform soon afterward. Smart meters require more exhaustive information technology needs, another variable that needs to be addressed.
The metering hardware itself will account for almost half of the project budget, the Electric Power Research Institute found. The remaining portion will be split among network hardware, installation, project management and IT costs.
In the end, the process is well worth the trouble, as AMI opens up new operational and revenue opportunities. However, this technology can have even more impact when paired with an industry-leading outage management like the DataVoice OMS. Our solution is mobile ready, includes a host of ground-breaking features and integrates with most AMI systems. Contact us today to learn more.