Advanced Metering Infrastructure Is Unlocking Opportunities for Utilities and Their Customers

By Jonathan Susser | September 7, 2020

Advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) is an integrated system of smart meters, communications networks and data management that opens doors to many capabilities for utilities and the customers they serve.

The primary difference between AMI and older meter technology is the former’s ability to engage in two-way communication between a utility and customer. This key feature provides more detailed and frequent information to both parties, allows for better outage detection and recovery, can integrate novel electricity pricing models, supports renewable energy and enables innovative energy efficiency and demand response programs.

How It Works

AMI begins with a smart meter at a home or business. This meter can measure electricity usage, encrypt it and communicate it wirelessly through a transmitter. Communications equipment, such as a device on a utility pole, receives the data and sends it along to the utility, who collects it, analyzes it and uses it to improve utility service and offerings.

Transitioning to AMI will likely require changes to a utility’s organizational structure, processes and skillsets, as well as integration with existing systems. These modifications take time and can prove challenging. For example, the smart meters (and possibly additional substation equipment) must be installed at customer homes and facilities; data centers and management systems will be needed to collect, store and analyze meter data; and upgraded communications devices may be demanded to transmit the data between the meters and data centers. Navigating these steps entails detailed organization and coordination across departments, but the result brings numerous benefits.

Opportunities for Utilities and Their Customers

The enhanced data collection and analysis and two-way communication of AMI present many opportunities for utilities to support grid operation and customer service.

Operational Benefits

From an operational perspective, AMI can reduce truck and personnel dispatches, as utility representatives no longer need to visit customer sites for meter-reading and connect/disconnect procedures — these can be performed remotely. Older electric meter technology would track the amount of electricity a home used, and then a utility representative would either walk by the meter to read and record its output or drive by it to download usage data. With AMI and smart meters, utilities can avoid this task because the meters transmit the relevant data directly to them. Expenses and employees previously devoted to these jobs can be redirected to other utility uses and functions.

AMI is also a boon to outage detection and response. For example, the technology can help utilities determine whether an outage is originating from their end or from a customer location. In addition, when making repairs, utility workers no longer need to drive by lines to verify restorations; instead, they can ping meters along the lines to ensure that homes and businesses have their power back. And even before an outage occurs, AMI can assist with identifying equipment that may be overloaded or damaged and require replacement. In other words, AMI lets utilities be proactive and plan ahead rather than have to respond to issues after they occur.

Customer and Program Benefits

AMI has several capabilities that can benefit customer service and allow for more tailored support, products, programs and communication. The enhanced information it provides can be used to better analyze customer usage data and explore irregularities. If an issue is believed to be at play, the utility can notify the customer and work to identify the problem. Furthermore, customers can receive feedback about electricity price signals, their energy usage and their projected monthly bill, which can help them make more informed decisions about their consumption.

AMI also supports novel pricing and rate mechanisms. Prepay (sometimes called flexpay) programs allow customers to pay for their electricity in advance, as they need it. These pay-as-you-go offerings provide updates on electricity usage and remaining balance to help customers budget, and they frequently do not require an initial deposit, reducing financial burdens further. From a utility perspective, these billing structures can reduce delinquent payments, write-offs and disconnects/reconnects.

Conclusion

Although its use continues to evolve, AMI is unlocking ways for utilities to deliver safe, reliable and affordable electricity, and for customers to take a more active role in managing and navigating their energy usage.