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Automated Meter Reading: If, Then When?

Fortnightly Magazine - October 1 1999

the presentations," along with the vendors, to present all sides, Green says. He cites as an example the presentation, "The Strategic and Economic Value of AMR - Three Views of the Business Case," which places on the stage two people from utilities (Jerry Bonser, New Century Energies, and Brian Pollom, Puget Sound Energy) together with one vendor (Susan Layne, Schlumberger Industries).

Symposium goers, Green says, "want opinions of those who have implemented [AMR]," and one thing they definitely want to hear about is cost justification (translation: "Why bother?"). To justify the high costs associated with AMR, companies want to know what it can do for them beyond just giving them a meter read. In addition to the more indirect - and perhaps less immediately usable - benefits of AMR such as customer data, prospective AMR purchasers want quick and tangible rewards for investing in AMR systems, such as outage information and on-demand read capability.

That's where people like Carolyn Kinsman, president of Automated Communication Links Inc., come in. Kinsman, who is presenting two courses at the symposium and is AMRA's education chairperson, compares the information available from AMR to what local telephone companies use to market different packages to customers based on what's going on in their homes.

"The data looks almost identical," Kinsman says, when you compare the usage patterns provided by AMR with the information that the phone companies use for marketing and packaging.

Attempting to provide information that conference goers need now, Kinsman's AMR overview course, "AMR Technologies Assessment, Service Criteria and Purchasing Options," focuses on the technologies "you can go out and buy today." In addition, the course attempts to help future purchasers of AMR to define exactly what they want. Kinsman gives as an example how a company often says it wants to be able to do "on-demand reads." Not a very refined objective, according to Kinsman.

"Many systems can do it. You just have to configure it. But it's expensive." Kinsman gets the company to define exactly what it means by "on-demand." If a company wants reads within minutes, it's going to be a lot more expensive than if it could accept, say, a six-hour lag time. The same issue would need to be addressed when considering outage detection: Do you have to know about outages within minutes, or within hours? Her presentation is rooted in the present, and Kinsman hopes that symposium goers would come out of the course "more of a savvy shopper."

Kinsman's other symposium course, "Using Customer AMR Data to Build," moves into the business strategy realm and discusses what types of packages can be offered to commercial and industrial customers, and what kinds of value-added services residential customers would be willing to pay for.

For companies that already use AMR, such as Duquesne, the benefits and even the necessities of having AMR already are apparent. Duquesne's system brings in daily reads, which are used not only to do forecasting, but also for reconciliation with the various electricity suppliers. In that sense, Green observes, retail competition has made AMR a necessity for