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10 ways to get the most value out of your AMI investment

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Joel Westvold's picture
Account Executive and Executive Consultant, Technology Planning and Im, E Source

Joel Westvold, PMP, specializes in supporting business development and growth while continuing to support smart utility technology implementation projects. His 30 years of experience include...

  • Member since 2022
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  • Dec 7, 2022
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This item is part of the Data Analytics and Intelligence - November/December 2022 SPECIAL ISSUE, click here for more

Electric, water, and gas utilities across the US and Canada have invested millions designing and implementing advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) systems. Now those utilities are looking for ways to use their investments to deliver even more value—we call this a day 2 opportunity.

It’s important to avoid looking at AMI in a silo and, instead, take a holistic approach to identify new potential functionality. We can help you discover available benefits from many obvious— and not-so-obvious—areas. To help get you started, we’ve pulled together 10 examples of AMI opportunities to consider.

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Analytics

AMI vendors offer a variety of analytics options. Third-party solutions are also available. Some utilities have chosen to implement their own analytics solutions to address specific operational issues. We’ve seen solutions for:

  • Revenue integrity and theft detection
  • Leak detection, from both a premise and system perspective
  • Phase detection
  • Meter heat detection to prevent overheating
  • Aggregation of electrical loads from a group of meters (possibly from a group served by the same transformer)
  • Power quality
  • Nonrevenue water determination

Collaboration

Some utilities are evaluating the benefits of sharing their AMI communications network and other portions of their AMI infrastructure with neighboring utilities. One benefit is the opportunity to share costs.

Conservation voltage reduction

Some AMI systems can provide information that you can use to control the voltage on feeders and distribution lines. This could reduce power needs, cut costs, and improve power quality for your end-of-line customers.

Demand response (DR)

Some AMI systems can support DR actions by using either the communications system to control DR devices or AMI data to verify compliance with DR events.

Distribution automation

Many AMI vendors facilitate near-real-time automation for utility distribution processes. AMI can also work with third-party distribution automation applications.

Edge computing capabilities

Some AMI systems offer greater computing capability within the meter that can facilitate distributed intelligence applications. These could include theft detection, high-impedance detection, outage detection, location awareness, and neighbor comparisons.

Outage management systems

Integrating AMI with your outage management system can improve your performance metrics. It can also boost efficiency in dispatch of crews, outage sizing, and restoration.

Prepay

Many AMI systems integrate with prepay vendor systems, allowing you to offer this payment option to customers. Prepay is popular in communities with population turnover, like college towns. In addition, prepay programs reduce demand.

Streetlighting control

Several AMI systems allow you to use their communications networks to control streetlights by reporting outages and brightening or dimming the lights. Being able to adjust brightness can improve public safety and reduce power costs.

Time-of-use (TOU) and other dynamic pricing programs

Pairing AMI meters with a meter data management system and interval data can provide the necessary elements for TOU pricing options. This will help reduce the bills of customers who are flexible about the time of day they use electricity.

To fully evaluate these options, adopt a strategic alignment approach that brings together the ideas for opportunities from all stakeholder groups to create a day 2 roadmap. We recommend taking a use-case approach to building the roadmap. From there, you can develop clear implementation plans to address specific, prioritized, and endorsed benefits.

Discussions
Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Dec 7, 2022

Do you find these arguments need to be made to a utility before they are open to jumping into AMI, or are these lessons that you find you need to help utilities with once they already have AMI but aren't fully utilizing the opportunities? 

Joel Westvold's picture
Joel Westvold on Dec 19, 2022

Matt, my apologies for the late reply - been a busy couple of weeks to try to close out the year!

I do think that these ideas should be discussed upfront to help the utility fully understand the value of AMI, but I believe that they should likely be acted upon after installation of AMI. It is easy to lose focus on an AMI deployment if you get distracted by areas that won't be able to come to fruition until after the system is operational.

Michael Smith's picture
Michael Smith on Dec 13, 2022

Joel: Great list! Like many of us who have been around the industry for a long time, I remember when a lot of the big AMI implementations were happening. During that era, a consultant at one of the leading professional services firms that was leading a lot of the AMI work in the 2000s - 2010s told me over a lunch meeting one day that, "frankly, when we put the use cases together, beyond the labor and related cost savings with replacing meter readers, we really don't know how AMI and smart grid is going to evolve." While this did not completely surprise me, it did underscore how a little federal funding can generate a lot of activity with very little assessment of its value (and that funding back in the day was practically rounding error when compared to today's federal government energy expenditures).

Getting back to AMI and the resulting data, today there are some great successes that can be traced to those initial AMI implementations, and your list confirms this. I will be so bold to suggest that there are a few other use cases that one might add to your list. A few of these are in and around some of what you have listed, but still merit a closer look:

  • Transformer Management: Using smart meter data, along with other data sets like SCADA data and weather data, modeling transformer wear and tear to enable predictive maintenance or even replacement is one use case that holds a lot of promise. In my past life with an analytics provider, our engineers put together some POCs that confirmed this. As reliability becomes a more sensitive issue for utilities (imagine how the public would react if they knew that run-to-failure is the industry standard for many critical assets) and as the economics of predictive operations make more sense, using smart meter data to manage transformers more effectively could become a standard at many utilities.
  • Energy Disaggregation: As utilities look to provide new services to customers, energy disaggregation might be the tool that enables new energy and cost saving services and products for utility customers. The visibility into energy usage from energy disaggregation can be the foundation for utilities providing a new level of customer service and engagement, perhaps even changing the traditional role of the utility.
  • Complex Billing: As DERs become more prevalent, the challenges of billing accurately with the myriad different programs are mind-bogging. Most CISs that are operating at utilities today are not equipped to wrangle all of that smart meter data, align the right data with the right program, and consistently, automatically produce an accurate, timely bill. Smart meter data helps unlock these complex billing capabilities.

As one can see from your list and my additions, these are indeed interesting times for the utility industry, eh? It'll be fun to see what the industry, especially those critical utility-to-customer relationships enables with smart meter data, will look like in about five years.

Joel Westvold's picture
Joel Westvold on Dec 19, 2022

Great reply, Michael! My apologies for being so late in responding.

The only caution I would provide in response to your additions is around Energy disaggregation. I understand your point about it being a tool that can enable potentially valuable services for utility customers, but how that is presented is important. Data security and "Big Brother" concerns among some utility customers remain. As such, it's necessary to be aware of those so as to not cause undo concern amongst utility customers.

Joel Westvold's picture
Thank Joel for the Post!
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