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The Oracle of AMR: Interview With Howard Scott

The Oracle of AMR
Fortnightly Magazine - March 2005

difficulty maintaining a large enough meter reading workforce. Meter reading is often the entry level for many new employees with a utility. After a few months, many of these people are not happy with this entry-level job. As other jobs open up at a utility, the meter readers will try to transfer to them. Many utilities are constantly looking for meter readers because the meter reading position becomes the initial training path for finding candidates for other positions in their organization. So, the metering staffs are constantly under pressure to find people who can really do the job, are pleasant to customers, and can work quickly and accurately. This is a constant aggravation for the utility because meter reads produce most of a utility's revenue. So, you can imagine why a utility might want AMR. It is fundamentally important to the business, this is where most revenues come from, and is also an area that has on-going accuracy problems. AMR, in any of its different forms, solves these problems.

Fortnightly: What criteria should a utility use when attempting to select between fixed versus mobile AMR technologies?

Howard Scott: First, let's review these technologies. Mobile AMR can be done by a truck or van that has been specially fitted with some special antennas and other equipment. In other instances, it uses computer-like devices that sit on the passenger seat of a car or truck with a single antenna sticking out the window or attached to the roof. Mobile AMR could even be done by a person walking with a hand-held reader. "Fixed AMR" refers to several technologies. It could be any radio AMR that uses a fixed receiver. The most common radio systems have a large number of collectors in a neighborhood, though some newer systems can transmit over a greater distance. Fixed AMR also includes power line and telephone technologies. When the utility wants reads more frequently than monthly or quarterly, it usually wants fixed AMR. If it wants monthly or quarterly reads, it is more likely the utility will go with a mobile system. The more frequent the reads, the more likely fixed AMR technologies will be chosen.

Fortnightly: Do you find that to be the case in the real-world purchase data?

Howard Scott: The deployment data shows that in 1999 fixed and mobile units were deployed at almost exactly the same rate; approximately 50 percent of the units were fixed and the other 50 percent were mobile. Since then, the mobile percentage rose and the fixed percentage dropped. The spread between them reached almost 30 percent. Intuitively, you'd think that there would have been more fixed going in because it was the newer technology and the interest in time-of-use information favored fixed technologies. However, the price of mobile systems became extremely cost competitive. Based on the business case, the mobile system was winning. For electric utilities, it has been almost 50:50 for the last four years, though mobile deployments have slowly crept higher in that market. Gas AMR has tended to be mostly mobile and water has been dominantly mobile.