Water conservation is a major focus for all utility companies and large facilities. In areas of population growth, improved efficiency is far cheaper than seeking out new sources of water.
One tool to assist in conserving both water and energy is advanced metering infrastructure (AMI). So, what is AMI, and how can it help you conserve water and better serve your customers?
What Is Advanced Metering Infrastructure?
Most people are now familiar with smart meters and their advantages. AMI goes one step further. It is an integrated system of equipment and communications that allows for not just remote reading, but remote service connection and disconnection, improved billing accuracy, rapid leak detection, etc.
Through advanced metering infrastructure, utilities can ensure both that customers are not paying for costs related to leaks and loss, and that unauthorized usage is not occurring.
What Is the Difference Between AMI and Automatic Meter Reading?
Automatic meter reading (AMR) is an older and simpler technology. AMR meters use one way communication to send the meter reading to the utility. This does allow for leak notification and reduces the significant labor associated with manual meter reading. Many customers also prefer automatic meter reading as it does not require you to have access to their property, with the issues that can ensue.
Basically, AMI is the next step up. It allows for real-time collection of data, which definitely speeds up leak detection, and can also include faster resolution of billing disputes, the ability for customers to adjust their billing date, and a lot of real-time diagnostic and maintenance reports. All of this goes into customer service. For example, allowing adjusted billing dates allows customers to ensure that their bill goes out a certain number of days after their paycheck comes in, preventing overdrafts.
Does AMI Require Special Meters?
Yes. AMI requires that you provide smart meters with AMI capability to your customers. This can be the largest piece of setting up an AMI network, at least in terms of time.
These meters can be installed as an upgrade to old manual meters or to AMR meters. In some cases, you may be able to upgrade an AMR meter to AMI instead of replacing it, depending on the infrastructure you are using and the type of meter.
Most of these meters use radio communication to connect to the network. Some modern AMI water meters use the cell network. Electricity utilities often send the signal down the power line; if you are a combined utility or can enter into an arrangement with the electricity company to upgrade to utility smart metering at the same time, you may be able to “piggyback” through this system.
Are There Times You Might Use AMR?
Although AMI offers significant benefits over AMR, some utilities may find the older system is better. Because the smart meters are not networked, the capital investment is much lower. There is no need for a massive amount of infrastructure to support it.
That said, AMR meters that can be upgraded to AMI are often a smart choice when you lack the budget to go straight to AMI. This allows the system to be implemented incrementally over time. You can prioritize areas that are known to have issues, such as areas where water pressure tends to be compromised because of altitude changes.
AMR still provides some of the most key benefits, including both utility and customer-side leak detection. It does not, however, save as much manpower. With many AMR systems, you still have to have personnel walk or drive past the property to pick up the signal, instead of it being sent through the network to a central location.
How Does AMI Technology Help Conserve Water?
The primary conservation benefit is real-time leak detection. This allows leaks to be fixed in a timely manner, significantly reducing waste. AMI systems also help conserve water by:
- Detecting unauthorized use
- Reducing estimated billing, which can encourage unnecessary use
- Improved customer awareness, helping your customers understand how much water they are using and when.
Most customers are willing to conserve water and need to be empowered to do so. Customers might be wary of AMI to start with for privacy reasons, but typically get on board when they realize it can lower their bills (without a matching reduction in revenue) because of the amount of money the system saves.
If you are interested in advanced metering infrastructure for your utility, contact Envocore today to discuss your needs and start the process of getting a quote.