The not so humble meter
Even the most modern meter is of no appreciable value until it is read, which at best is normally only a few times a year. However, with the technology available in AMR the meter is a high-value asset, earning its keep every day by providing the essential customer contact, and also helping to improve revenue and operation of the whole business.
WHEN INFORMATION BECOMES THE ASSET
So how can AMR turn the meter into an efficient asset? A meter may contain a large amount of valuable information. But until that information is retrieved it is worthless – there is no point having the information retained in the meter when it could be automatically directed to a computer system and accessible at all times.
When it comes to meter reading, automatic data can dramatically cut down on the costs of sending out a member of staff. Figures show that something like two out of three attempts to visit a site to read the meter can be unsuccessful, adding far more than just unnecessary personnel and transportation costs. The resulting estimated bills are guaranteed to irritate customers, and also provide the ideal excuse to delay payments while queries are sorted out.
But AMR is much more than just low-cost, non-intrusive meter reading. It can open up a vast number of future opportunities and create a competitive advantage for the utility company.
The key is to use the information held in the meter as a database. How the utility company manipulates and uses this data will set it apart from others. For an AMR system to be truly effective, it should be able to generate regular information to empower the utility to provide improved billing accuracy, improved load management and possibly eliminate forever the need for estimated meter reads.
Research by Advanced Technology shows that without the billing disputes created by estimates, customers are more likely to pay on time. Staff will spend less time dealing with customer queries and carrying out bill adjustments, and payment cycles are shortened which, of course, will improve cash flow.
So the meter rapidly changes from an under-used asset to a valuable contributor to the bottom line – because greatly improved data and information on customer consumption habits mean a utility can tailor its services and tariffs to individual needs.
More data means more information and more knowledge means greater under-standing and improved customer relationship management. Continuous data using automatic meter reading technology means utilities can also crack down on tamper, theft and leakage instantly.
PAYMENT FOR ALL ENERGY USED
Instead of suffering revenue losses through unaccounted-for consumption, a utility receives payment for all the energy it supplies. This is rapidly becoming an important issue for shareholders and other stakeholders – unaccounted-for consumption can be up to 30% of revenues in some cases, and utility directors should be ready with answers as to why.
Utility managers at the forefront of the industry are realising that those 'insignificant, hardly-used' meters are the key to the future. Continuous automatic meter readings can not only identify theft and fraud, but problems caused by extreme weather are overcome. Despite tropical heat or six foot snow drifts, the information still comes through.
Another key benefit is the ability to remotely disconnect or reconnect the meter without the need to attend the site. Staff members are not subjected to intimidation, and any losses are cut instantly.
Utilities should be looking for a keen return on their investment in meters. The image of the 'idle' meter is changing, and utilities already using meters as a valuable continuous source of information and data find there is a significant impact on their business.