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Beyond Billing: Unlocking Value with AMI

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Voices of Experience|Leveraging AMI Networks and Data

Initially, the business case for Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) centered around cost savings from reduced truck rolls. However, with more than 78 million advanced meters now deployed across the U.S., utilities are discovering that AMI provides significantly more value than originally anticipated. Here at the U.S. Department of Energy, we recognized early on the potential benefits AMI promised. For an industry built on prudent, thoughtful decisions, we realized that gathering operational evidence about the technology’s value and its role in grid modernization would be critically important. Thus, in 2010, the Office of Electricity funded the installation of over 15 million advanced meters to jumpstart deployment. We recognized that it is sometimes necessary to install and use a new technology to truly understand its full value. This is the case with AMI.

Smart Meters at a Glance
Institute for Electric Innovation, March 2019

Last year, as part of the Department’s Voices of Experience Initiative, we set out to capture how utilities are using AMI networks and data beyond the original business case. We convened utilities from around the country to discuss the value they had uncovered since those investments were made nearly a decade ago. The recently released Voices of Experience|Leveraging AMI Networks and Data report captures their experience. More than 120 electric power professionals with varying experience levels–from just starting out to many years with the technology–participated in the year-long effort. Participants shared their knowledge, insights, and future plans.

“Worth the Cost?”

When participants were asked if AMI was worth the cost, the resounding response was “Yes!” Utilities overwhelmingly reported that AMI has exceeded initial expectations by providing previously unavailable data and visibility into system operations. This is opening opportunities for improving reliability, reducing costs through increased efficiencies, and enabling a shift from a reactive to proactive mode. AMI is also catalyzing new customer relationships. Utilities are using the data collected by AMI to develop programs and services that provide customers with more information and control. Customers want convenience, information at their fingertips, and products and services tailored to their preferences. AMI makes this possible.

AMI helps utilities meet customers’ changing expectations. With AMI, utilities no longer have to wait for a customer call to know the power is out; AMI’s last gasp functionality provides an alert to let them know. Moreover, utilities are developing platforms that send proactive communications to customers when there is an outage or when restorations are complete. They are also developing mobile applications to allow customers to see bill projections, set up usage alerts, or even “ping” their own meter. The meter-ping functionality makes it possible to determine if an outage is a customer issue (i.e., the breaker) or a utility issue, without the customer having to wait for a technician to investigate, thereby improving customer satisfaction and convenience. Several utilities reported that on a “blue-sky” day, about 25% of calls regarding a power outage are on the customer side of the meter.

More Than a Billing Device

Utilities that have implemented AMI know it enables much more than just billing and rates. It is a network device (i.e., sensor) that provides specific data about distribution system operations. Before AMI, utilities managed, operated, and maintained a highly reliable network based on primary circuit models and analysis, but lacked actual data. What operators and engineers might have known intuitively through years of experience, AMI is revealing and confirming through data. With predictive analytics, utilities can anticipate the declining health or pending failure of an asset and proactively schedule equipment maintenance or replacement rather than waiting for a failure or customer call—sometimes in the middle of the night. Proactively addressing issues during normal operating hours increases worker safety, reduces overtime costs, and delivers better reliability and service for customers.

Achieving Value

It became clear during our discussions that realizing AMI’s greatest value required full deployment, integration with other systems, and employee access to AMI data. Participants were quick to note that many considerations go into designing an AMI system and each utility should begin by determining where it can provide the most value for their organization and their customers based on cost, priorities, and operating considerations. While a utility should identify and plan for specific value streams from day one, participants emphasized that the value utilities achieve from deploying AMI will likely evolve over time once the utility gains operational experience, digs into the data, pairs it with other data, and uncovers new ways to use it. Participants’ advice for utilities just designing their system is to build a system that is flexible, scalable and capable of meeting future needs and demands. This will be important for achieving future value.

We at the Department hope the document can serve as a valuable resource for utilities and the broader industry by providing insight into the many ways utilities are using AMI to unlock hidden value for operations and their customers.

Visit www.smartgrid.gov/voices to download the document.

About The Voices of Experience Series

The Voices of Experience series is a DOE initiative designed to bring utilities together to share their knowledge, insights and lessons learned through implementing the emerging technology that is reshaping the electric power industry. Each guidebook is intended to stand alone, but like the interconnected nature of the distribution system, aspects from each document may be relevant to other topics. Topics covered in the series include customer engagement, advanced distribution management systems, and integrating intermittent resources at the distribution level. Visit www.smartgrid.gov/voices to download the series.

About the Author

Eric Lightner has worked as a program manager for advanced technology development at the Department of Energy for the last 29 years. For the past 19 years he has focused on the modernization of America’s electric grid, and he currently oversees the Advanced Distribution Management Systems and the Sensor Technologies and Data Analytics research programs within the Office of Electricity.  He also leads several industry engagement activities including DataGuard, an industry led Voluntary Code of Conduct for data privacy and access of customer energy usage information, as well as the Voices of Experience initiative. Mr. Lightner earned a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering from the University of Maryland and a Master of Science degree in electrical engineering from the Johns Hopkins University.

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