Itemised utility bill available on the net

A partnership between ABB Kent Meters, South Staffordshire Water Authority, RAM Mobile Data and ATL Metering Limited is spearheading an innovative automatic meter reading (AMR) project at a Beazer Homes site in Cannock, Staffordshire. The companies had previously worked together on a pilot project at Merry Hill Shopping Centre, where the radio-based system for data collection and revenue information was tested and assessed.

The Cannock site comprises 150 newly built units. The utility is reading the meters remotely, using the fixed network AMR system supplied by ATL Metering Limited. By monitoring consumption profiles, South Staffordshire will be able to offer its customers a range of more accurately calculated tariffs.

ITEMISED UTILITY BILL

The information will be available to customers on their own private web site, showing up-to-date readings, an up-to-date bill and graphs of usage patterns. Facilities to pay bills via the net are also available. Steve Colella of South Staffordshire’s regulations department says: “The system will provide probably the first itemised utility bill available on the net in the UK, if not in the world. This will allow customers to manage their consumption based on our new tariffs, and contribute to greater energy efficiency.”

The ATL automatic meter reading system allows South Staffordshire to monitor its water meters remotely – and to do so every hour of every day if they wish. Manual meter readings will continue as a control trial, to prove the accuracy of the radio reads. The Wide Area Network (using RAM Mobile Data) can be rapidly developed and allows continuous two-way communication. This means that reads can be taken at any time and leakage, especially on the customer side, can be constantly monitored.

ATL Metering and South Staffordshire Water Authority have used the system in an imaginative way. The utility is having discussions with the local electricity and gas suppliers to extend the radio reads to their meters. Consumption profile data will be given to them once the system is operational. ATL Metering has designed a special RF unit that will read all three meters; full encryption separately identifies each type of data.

ATL EWE 600

The benefits are considerable. South Staffordshire now has a separate revenue earner, as it can sell the data and so fund the initial installation. The other utilities gain a low cost entry into AMR without the up-front capital cost, and the customer benefits by having accurate reads, consumption profiles on the Internet, and innovative tariffs from all three utilities, without the need for meter reader visits.

Beazer Homes’ technical manager Kendrick Jackson says: “Adding value to our homes gives us a leading edge in this competitive market. We are keen to be involved in projects that will benefit our customers; we are now building ‘homes for the future’ and this development in meter reading is another step forward for us.”

ENCODER OUTPUT METERS IDEAL FOR AMR

The meters used are manufactured and distributed by ABB Kent Meters. The Kent KVM 15mm encoder output meter guarantees meter reading accuracy and doesn’t need to be powered. This makes it ideal for AMR installations; pulse output meters require constant power if pulses are not to be missed.

Kevin Holland, ATL’s marketing director, sees traditional meter reading technology as a dinosaur in a market where competitive pressures have escalated beyond recognition, and consumer needs and expect-ations have changed.

“AMR is far more than low cost non-intrusive reading,” says Holland. “It moves into the realms of data capture and knowledge management. AMR opens up a Pandora’s box of opportunity for utilities, allowing them to add value and develop closer relationships with customers, thus improving customer retention. What’s happening at Cannock is the way I believe UK utilities will progress AMR, especially in the case of multiutilities, where management of supply alone is not enough – AMR will allow the utility to manage demand and with it its future prospects.”

Colella concludes: “We expect that water and electricity, as well as gas, will be online with access to customers able to view/pay their bills. This has opened up new opportunities for South Staffs and for our customers, and we are already planning to extend the system to our key customers.”