Advanced Metering Simplified

Water utilities considering automated meter reading (AMR) or advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) for the first time, or thinking about potential changes or upgrades, can have a confusing road ahead without the right guidance. Pitfalls and roadblocks abound when navigating a complex field of varying and potentially puzzling technology choices.

Unbiased guide
The Automatic Meter Reading Association (AMRA) will unveil an online Technology Assessment Tool (TAT) on its website, www.amra-intl.org, in March 2007, which will allow utilities to determine which AMR technologies best suit their current and future needs.

The idea for the TAT originated from a 2004 AMRA members’ survey in which utility members pointed out the need for a guide to help narrow down the multitude of options when initially investigating AMR/AMI. The tool will not be an endorsement of any specific product or service provider, but rather an unbiased, vendor-neutral source of information about where to start—the first steps before the building of a successful business case. As such, the tool’s focus will not be on the price of various technologies, but rather which functions are available from AMR/AMI systems and how well they match up with utilities’ profiles and needs.

“We’re trying to fill a hole in the marketplace and provide utilities with a roadmap,” said Clark Pierce of PSE&G, and AMRA vice president of technology. “An online technology tool was the top-rated new service the association was asked to work on by our members.”

Following the selection of a consulting firm with first-hand AMR experience in the summer of 2006, development of the TAT began in September 2006.

How it works
Users of the TAT will be able to create profiles for themselves, entering information such as functional needs by commodity, meter distribution, geographic and customer class profiles, and data latency. Based on the information entered, the tool will present technologies that make the most sense for that utility, as well as links to technology providers and consultants for more information.

Utilities can create multiple scenarios to learn how their specific needs change depending on each variable they enter into the system. Rather than responding to inquiries with merely one suggested technology, results are presented on a sliding scale of a larger range of possible metering solutions.

“Because profiles will be stored, we’re building a tool that allows utilities to store different scenarios, conduct analyses and review the technologies,” said Brian Pollom, immediate past president of AMRA.

AMRA formed both an association committee and an advisory council of vendors to oversee the execution phase of the TAT. Metering technology providers wishing to be included in the online tool will need to participate in an information discovery process.

The service will be free for AMRA members, and will be available by subscription for nonmembers in the second half of 2007.

Project leaders are also developing a questionnaire for all AMRA vendors to fill out, in which they can inform the association about their specific technologies and the types of systems they employ.

“Our ultimate goal is to decrease the amount of legwork for utilities trying to see what’s out there,” Pierce said. “In the past, utility meter managers would have to go to a conference and visit 18 different vendors. With this assessment tool, they’ll be able to save time, money and effort.”

Matthew Lesh is news editor for the AMRA. He can be reached at 847/480-9080 x 227 or by e-mail at mlesh@amra-intl.org.

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