Making the Case for AMI Part 2: Customer Service Benefits

This is the second installment of Making the Case for Advanced Metering Infrastructure.

For more information, see my first post that covers some of the AMI basics like billing data, meter data management (MDM), theft identification, and demand response or load management. And stay tuned for future installments covering security, system integration issues, rate programs and procurement contract wording.

ami_customer_service_quality_efficiency_reliabilityDeploying an advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) system is a large investment and commitment to a technology road map that will impact utility operations for many years. Making the proper choice here can either help or hinder future distribution system improvements.

Today, the topic is customer service.

High Bill Complaints

Before modern smart meters, it wasn’t easy to assess some causes of abnormally high electric bills. It often required utilities to partially absorb costs or spend long hours tracking down energy losses at the customer premise.

Some utilities have cost justified their AMI system based solely on reduced truck rolls associated with customer issues. Reading blinks, sags, swells, outages and high usage periods right from the Service Representative’s desktop is a powerful tool for improving the company’s bottom line.

Managing Transient Populations

Other utilities are forced to deal with high move-in and move-out situations in vacation areas and college or military towns, which can be a drain on resources. The ability to provide remote disconnect and reconnect is an easy savings to identify.

When a utility can provide a final read, disconnect and account settlement from the desk of a Customer Service Representative, Meter Technicians and Linemen can be better utilized elsewhere.

Slow and nonpaying customers require a great amount of attention as well. Chronically delinquent accounts often require meter disconnects and reconnects once account holders settle overdue bills.

AMI systems with smart meters are capable of limiting energy usage by shutting off when a customer exceeds a preset threshold or by cycling power on and off on a timed basis such as 30 minutes on and 30 minutes off.

Extremely troublesome accounts can be assigned to a prepaid program requiring the customer to pay for their electricity before it’s delivered from the utility.

Power Quality

Every utility at some point has fielded flicker or blink complaints from customers. Counters built into most smart meters are capable of recording depth, duration and quantity of short-lived voltage issues.

Customer Service Representatives need the ability to verify issues and dispatch appropriate personnel to further investigate customer complaints of this nature without requiring a technician to visit the premise, install a data logging device, return at a later date and analyze the recorded data after the fact.

Best-in-class AMI solutions are capable of sending alarms directly from the meter to the head end without waiting for an operator to manually request meter data or wait for a regularly scheduled read of the meter.

One of the most overlooked requirements of an AMI system is an ability to push unsolicited and live meter events to a SCADA or outage management systems. But these integrations are where modern AMI systems can make the biggest impact to the return on investment calculation.

A simple on-screen glance at neighboring meters to determine the extent of a given outage or power quality event can also greatly reduce troubleshooting times by isolating issues down to the pole, span or connection point. When you can roll a truck to an outage or other issue before the customer can make it to the phone, your customer service and field crews look like rock stars (and save a lot of money).

If a system cannot connect and push data to other applications via industry standard protocols, you run the risk of creating technology silos incapable of providing your utility with a cohesive solution across your enterprise (more on this in upcoming installments).

Performance Metrics

A growing number of utility commissions now require utilities to report on performance indicators such as System Average Interruption Duration Index (SAIDI) and Customer Average Interruption Duration Index (CAIDI).

SAIDI is the average length of utility outages for a given utility over a given time period. CAIDI represents the average number of customers impacted by those outages.

The calculations of these figures have been time consuming and required a certain amount of estimation by the utility. Can your AMI system provide outage and duration data down to the meter at the push of a button? If you’ve chosen wisely, yes.

In the next installment, we’ll take a look at various rate programs and customer engagement strategies.

If you’re considering a comprehensive AMI system, make sure you know what questions to ask before it’s too late.

Read my first post about the basics of AMI, stay tuned as this series continues and reach out to your Border States representative or me for more information or a discussion on your long-term technology needs.