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Automatic Meter Reading: Debunking the Myths

Advanced Meter Reading

Fortnightly Magazine - March 2005

Advanced Meter Reading

An executive speaks out.

 

I think, frankly, that it's those marketing folks who conjure up all the myths about advanced meter reading. Rather than sheepishly admitting that their product is deficient in multiple areas, corporate spinmeisters spin webs of words and images into difficult-to-understand concepts, hoping upon hope they can fool us. They bank on the old adage: tell a lie enough and soon people will begin to believe it.

Automatic meter reading (AMR) is an area in which myths constantly swirl, so it's time for a little truth about AMR, long considered a promised land among utility executives. Time to toss out the marketing jargon. Time to bust some myths.

First, if AMR is the Promised Land, then why in the heck isn't every utility, municipal, and cooperative throughout the world relying on it and preparing to deploy it? A seemingly simple question, I think. The answer is that AMR has more holes than the Titanic's hull. All sorts of holes: technical holes, hardware holes, network holes, communication holes. The Promised Land? It's more like a wasteland.

Bottom line: AMR's hype outpaced reality, leaving the marketplace littered with failures, fake promises, and foolish hype. Here's why.

 

  • AMR was viewed as a niche technology with niche benefits rather than as an enabling platform with tentacles that can touch nearly every operational area within a utility. Better billing was billed as its chief, if not single, benefit.

 

 

  • Deregulation turned return on investment (ROI) analyses into a fool's game. Outrageously long payback on AMR investments made the risk higher than the potential benefit.

 

 

  • Hardware designs were clunky. Totally underglass designs were a pipedream.

 

 

  • Network coverage, communication costs, and quality issues added layers of complexity, sucking promised efficiencies (, real-time pricing, time of use, power quality) in the process.

 

 

  • Data overload was suffocating and the software needed to analyze it all was nowhere to be found. Boxes of metered data piled up with no means of understanding what any of it meant.

 

For AMR to prosper, it must morph into something larger and more significant to a utility's entire enterprise. Going forward, the new game centers on advanced metering. Advanced metering is, at its core, a complete real "real-time" system that incorporates and integrates hardware, flexible communications via public or private networks, and software for Web-based analysis and sophisticated management reports.

Advanced metering, done correctly, can address all of AMR's deficiencies. If a system is missing any of these elements, it's not an advanced metering platform. An advanced metering platform can enable all areas of a utility's enterprise to benefit from the metered data. Let's review some of advanced metering's chief benefits:

 

  • The billing department gets much more efficient in collecting usage data and issuing customer invoices.

 

 

  • The call center receives far fewer calls (80 percent of calls are bill-related in some fashion) because bills are more accurate.

 

 

  • Risk management faces less risk with time-of-use metering.

 

 

  • Real-time pricing makes

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