Advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) and the smart grid have grown at a rare and exceptional pace over the past few years. This growth stemmed in part from the U.S. Department of Energy's national effort to modernize the electric grid. This included the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which provided funding for the Smart Grid Investment Grant program.
The Department of Energy awarded 99 grants with $3.4 billion of federal funding, matched by $4.4 billion of private sector funding, for deployment of smart grid technologies in utilities nationwide. Thanks in part to the Smart Grid Investment Grant program, more than 65 million meters will have been manufactured, purchased and installed by the end of 2015.
Utilities are realizing the benefits of AMI and working to improve their processes. Vendors have stepped up to the plate and continue to develop new products and technology to meet the changing needs of utilities. Here are the top five reasons why more utilities and vendors are getting in tune with smart grid technology:
Meter reading expenses decrease when AMI is installed
Customer Engagement is Key
Read rates at utilities with AMI are at record performance levels. Accuracy has changed dramatically by removing the human interface in the read process.
Customers can view their own usage data down to intervals as low as five minutes every day
They can make decisions about their power usage with this new and essential information. Customers and utilities no longer have to wait an entire month to figure out how much power is being consumed.
The customer outage process dramatically changes once AMI is operational
Because the meters notify utilities when they lose or return to power, an often lethargic and mistake-prone process has been enhanced to the benefit of the utilities and customers. To be able to know the extent of a storm within minutes of an outage is knowledge the utilities have always needed.
Customer satisfaction soars when a crew is sent to the outage at a pace never imagined. Before leaving the job site, crew members can ping meters to validate their fixes are complete. This was impossible just a few years ago. Another great benefit is that the AMI system informs the utility of an outage before the first customer call.
The often-burdened process of identifying theft and meter tampering changes with AMI
Meter readers are no longer in the field and subsequently not there to witness the actual theft occurrence. AMI notifies utilities when a theft occurs.
Utilities have an improved process for connecting and disconnecting power remotely
Many utilities have installed AMI with remote connect and disconnect switches, and they are using this technology to complete their collection activities. Additionally, many utilities have engaged with apartment complexes to use the remote switches in their move-in/move-out procedure needs. And, some utilities have merged the disconnect switch routines into their public safety response processes.
As we all know, AMI installations in some areas have faced opposition, and not from just a few people but from organized groups. This has required many utilities to invest time and money into areas that haven't traditionally had much focus: customer education and engagement. These groups gain popularity and attention by claiming possible health impacts because of the radio-frequency wave technology emitted from the meters. Smart meters are tested and fully meet the FCC standards.
Some opponents believe smart meters violate their privacy by detecting and disseminating personal identification information, even with data encryption. Others are convinced the meters are surveillance devices that can tell what the customer is doing in each room of the house. Utilities that are planning to install AMI should start thinking about these potential obstacles and planning their customer-engagement strategies very early in the process.
Once AMI is fully operational, the real work begins. To make the most out of AMI investments, increase energy conservation and create efficiencies, utilities need to be able to operate their systems to their fullest capacities. That includes analyzing, managing and sharing data with customers. When customers understand that AMI can help them manage their energy costs, they may be more receptive to their new meters.
AMI is one step in creating an integrated solution for the modernization of the electric infrastructure. I can't wait to see what comes next.
Bob Sitkauskas is chairman of the board of Utilimetrics, a utility technology association celebrating its 25th anniversary.
Editor's note: Learn about emerging technologies, opt-out challenges, data analytics management and more at Autovation, the Utilimetrics conference and expo Sept. 30-Oct. 3 in Long Beach, California, U.S. Visit www.utilimetrics.org for information.