How to Transition to Advanced Metering Infrastructure

Three contractor engineer and worker discussing transitioning to a smart meter infrastructureSaving water, reducing costs, and ensuring bills are accurate. All three are important for the future of providing water, especially with population growth and climate change. 

One solution is advanced metering infrastructure, which allows for significant improvements in efficiency, customer service, and leak detection. This is an integrated system of data management and smart meters that allows for direct, two-way communication between you and your customers. So, read on to learn more about how to transition to advanced metering infrastructure–and why you should. 

What Are the Advantages of AMI?

Advanced metering infrastructure is not quite the same thing as smart meters, but it does include the advantages of smart meters. Major advantages include:

  • Reduced truck rolls and labor due to remote meter reading and remote shut offs on delinquent accounts. Transferring utilities to new homeowners becomes much faster.
  • Increased customer control over consumption and, thus, costs.
  • More accurate and timely bill delivery.
  • Real time leak detection that allows leaks to be fixed quickly, reducing water waste and revenue loss. Customers can also be warned of leaks on their side of the meter, allowing them to fix the problem quickly and thus face fewer surprise bills.
  • Increased consumer awareness, encouraging conservation of water and energy.
  • Improved data analysis to track usage patterns and help predict future needs.
  • Fewer inconveniences for customers from faster tracking of leaks and breaks.
  • Faster resolution of billing disputes.

Advanced metering infrastructure is also tech forward and future proofed, allowing you to focus on providing good service. However, actually making the transition can be a challenge.

Challenges of Transitioning to Advanced Metering Infrastructure

The biggest challenge when considering how to transition to advanced metering infrastructure is the substantial upfront cost. Installing smart meters, data relays, and other technology can be expensive. While some utilities have a reserve capital fund they can draw on, others may have no choice but to raise rates. Raising rates is never popular and a sudden rate jump can cause real hardship for users. Other utilities charge a user fee, such as a “rental fee” for the smart meters themselves.

Other challenges include:

  1. Selecting the right vendor. The competition in the field is growing over time. You should not just consider price, although it’s important not to overpay. Make sure you know whether the products are upgradable and whether they integrate with other systems. Look at the customer service they offer. Get references and read testimonials. This is a big project, so make sure you choose your vendor very carefully.
  2. Deciding whether to retrofit or replace meters. If you already have automated meters, you can simply add the AMI hardware. However, if you have older manual meters, you should replace them as they are likely not to last that much longer anyway.
  3. Data management. You are likely to need a vendor to store your data for analysis, especially for larger jurisdictions. Make sure you know who owns the data…you or the vendor.

The right choice of vendor is, of course, a huge part of the issue. You need a vendor who is collaborative, flexible, and offers the analysis and implementation services you need.

How to Make the Transition to Advanced Metering Infrastructure

Making the transition to advanced metering infrastructure starts with a preliminary evaluation. You need to identify your most important goals, whether they have to do with revenue protection and detecting unauthorized use, water conservation, or leak detection. For example, if you have older infrastructure, leak detection can be particularly important as you replace pipes incrementally. If your water sources are becoming tight, your primary concern might be encouraging customer conservation. Yet a third concern might be water quality surveillance.

You will then work with your chosen vendor on designing a system to support your very specific needs and choosing a manufacturer for smart meters and other devices.

Make sure to choose a vendor who offers ongoing data analysis and annual system testing to keep things running smoothly. During the implementation phase, you will need to make sure that your contractors work with your customers and treat them with appropriate respect as new meters are installed. The majority of customers are happy to receive remote-capable meters so they don’t have to have people on their property regularly, but may not be so keen on the actual installation. Make sure the contractors you choose set up appointments (and don’t expect people to be home all day) and work with customers on scheduling.

Don’t forget to educate your customers on the advantages of AMI to them. Talk about accurate billing, leak detection, how smart meters avoid surprise bills and, of course, remote meter reading. Customers should receive information on how to access their own water use records, typically done through a dashboard or app. Be transparent and as incremental as possible with any rate increases. Starting rate increases now to cover a project that won’t be done right away might seem harsh, but it avoids an unpopular abrupt hike.

If you are looking to make the transition to advanced metering infrastructure, Envocore provides all the services listed above and can help. Check out our website, or contact us to start the process of setting up a preliminary evaluation. We provide full design-build water and metering solutions to large buildings and municipalities, and can help you make the transition to advanced metering infrastructure and continue to move forward as technology grows and your needs change.

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