Is it time to consider an automated meter reading system…?

Is your utility considering a move to automated meter reading (AMR) or advanced meter infrastructure (AMI)?

Are you considering upgrading from an AMR system to an AMI system?

Are you uncertain what the differences are? Continue reading to learn more…

Reduced meter reading costs

The primary reason most utilities implement either form of automated meter reading system is to reduce meter reading costs. No matter if they use radio read handhelds, a drive-by system or a fixed base meter reading system, utilities can read meters faster and more accurately than with traditional handhelds or manual meter reading.

Cost savings are achieved by reducing the time it takes to read meters, from days to hours or weeks to days, depending on the number of meters being read. Additional cost savings are realized in fewer re-reads due to incorrect readings being keyed in a handheld or written in a meter book. For utilities transitioning from manual meter reading, even more savings are gained due to being able to import readings rather than having to enter them.

Improved customer service

Utilities sometimes overlook the customer service aspect of implementing an automated meter reading system when deciding to purchase one. Once an automated reading system is installed, the utility quickly realizes the customer service advantages.

Unlike traditional meter reading where meters are only read once each billing period, both AMR and AMI systems are capable of storing readings for an extended period of time. So when you have a customer complain about a high bill by saying, “I could never have used that much”, you can download the meter reading data for the billing period.

Depending on how the meter is programmed, these historical readings can be captured for any time interval, sometimes as often as 10 times per hour (that’s every six minutes!). Many utilities opt to capture one reading per hour, which is still frequent enough to detect usage patterns. You can then use this data to demonstrate to your unhappy customer that they really did use that much!

Two-way communication

What distinguishes more advanced AMI systems from AMR systems is two-way communication. Often referred to as “smart meters”, AMI meters are capable of transmitting and receiving information rather than only transmitting information as AMR systems do.

Typically, AMR systems are drive-by systems in which meters are read using laptops or handhelds capable of receiving a radio signal. AMI systems, on the other hand, tend to be fixed base systems where meters can be read centrally from the utility office.

Leak detection>/span>

AMI systems that transmit readings on a regular interval facilitate detecting water leaks soon after they occur. As soon as a leak starts, the hourly readings will be much higher than normal and will remain high until the leak is stopped. Sudden spikes in usage like this are easily detected and allow you to proactively notify your customer almost as soon as the leak occurs.

Remote disconnect and reconnect

Since AMI systems are capable of receiving information, with the proper meter installed, utilities can transmit a signal to turn off the meter, either for non-payment or when a customer moves out. In the same manner, the reconnect or turn-on can be accomplished remotely, providing faster service to your customer and saving your utility the cost of sending a service technician to the customer’s home.

What has been your experience?

Have you implemented an automated meter reading system? If you have, what has your experience been?

Or have you decided not to implement automated meter reading at this time? What are your reasons for deciding not to implement a system?

In either case, I’d love to hear your feedback. Please click here to post your comments.

If you have questions about implementing an automated meter reading solution, or if you would like to discuss conducting a feasibility study to see if either AMR or AMI makes sense for your utility, please contact me by calling 919-232-2320 or e-mailing me at gsanders@logicssolutions.com.

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© 2012 Gary Sanders

Should your utility have a Facebook page…?

You’ve probably read about social networking and may even be asking yourself “is this relevant to my utility?” I’m convinced it is and will attempt to explain why…

Two of the most popular social networks are Facebook and Twitter. You’ve probably seen businesses encourage their customers to “like” them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter. In this issue, let’s take a look at how establishing a Facebook page can help promote your utility. Once your customers “like” your page, they will see your status updates in their Facebook news feed, just like posts from any of their Facebook friends.

If your utility promotes water conservation, what better way to communicate that message than on a Facebook page? For utilities located in an area that is dealing with drought, Facebook is an excellent way to inform your customers of changes in drought restriction stages. If your utility bills for municipal services such as trash or recycling, Facebook provides a great forum to publicize changes in collection days.

Maintaining a web presence

Previously, I’ve written about why I believe maintaining a web presence is important and about some common website mistakes to avoid. If your utility doesn’t have the resources to design and host a website, a Facebook page is a great way to create an internet presence, and it’s FREE!

If you are unsure where to start in creating a Facebook page, SmallWaterSupply.org has a standing offer to build one for you. If you’re unfamiliar with SmallWaterSupply.org, they provide a variety of free resources for small water and wastewater systems. If you haven’t visited their website yet, I encourage you to do so.

How one utility uses Facebook

Lancaster County Water and Sewer District (LCWSD) in Lancaster, South Carolina maintains a Facebook page in addition to their website. David Lee, the IT Director for LCWSD, says “Facebook is an excellent way to promote the ways your utility gives back to the community by showing your involvement in local charities such as United Way and Red Cross Blood Drives. Customers can see that you are “real” people rather than just a place to pay a utility bill”.

Facebook pages allow you to post photos, “likes” for your page and a map to your office, as well as interact with your customers. David Lee states “We use Facebook to post messages of water outages, location of outages, estimated time of completion and the actual completion times. I have had several great comments on how we are one of the only utilities that does this. Even if there are no outages, we post that twice a day as well – once in the morning and again in the afternoon.”

Interact with your customers

You can post status updates, as LCWSD does, poll your customers (as I did about cut-off policies on the Utility Information Pipeline Facebook page) and allow your customers to post comments and ask questions. Of course, you can disable this feature and not allow your customers to post, but I would discourage you from doing so. After all, Facebook is called “social media” and who wants to be social with someone who won’t allow you to ask a question or voice your opinion? You can always remove offensive posts from your page, but if your customers have legitimate questions about how your utility operates, why not provide a forum for them to ask?

Finally, if you’re a Facebook user, please take a minute to “like” the Utility Information Pipeline Facebook page.

If you have questions about establishing a Facebook page for your utility, please contact me by calling 919-232-2320or e-mailing me at gsanders@logicssolutions.com.

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© 2012 Gary Sanders