The Complete Guide to smart automated meter reading infrastructure
If you want to learn more about implementing automated meter reader technology, you’ll enjoy this comprehensive guide that tells you everything you need to know.
The Global AMR Market
Faced with mounting pressure to increase profitability and reduce operating expenses, many utilities providers are looking to automated meter reading systems to help maximise the distribution and consumption of some of the world’s most valuable resources.
Automated Meter Reading (AMR) technology continues to grow as more utilities realise its value in increasing efficiencies and improving customer service. For businesses, AMR technology puts control of consumption and billing in their hands. Utilities companies, businesses and homeowners are finding out how AMR systems can help them improve operations. With the recent advancements in AMR technology and data communication, it’s not hard to see the attraction.
Smart meter market size
Automated meter reading is expected to emerge as a dominating segment within the smart meter market, due to factors such as increasing demand for affordable smart metering, the requirement to collect meter readings automatically, and the need for data-driven decision making.
What is an AMR?
Automatic Meter Reading (AMR) is a technology used to automatically collect consumption, diagnostic and status data from gas, electricity or water metering devices. The AMR then transfers this data to a central database for billing, troubleshooting and analysis.
What is an automatic meter reading system?
An automatic meter reading system (AMR system) enables the remote collection of consumption data from customers’ utilities using connected technologies. The AMR system gathers data in real time and saves and analysis the data for various applications.The AMR system comprises management software and AMR meters for water, electricity.
What is an AMR device?
An automated meter reading device (AMR device) is an attachment that can be retrofit onto an existing energy meter or water meter. It turns a traditional meter into a smart electricity meter or smart water meter through the capability to send real-time data via a connected network.
Automatic Meter Reading (AMR) is a technology used to automatically collect consumption, diagnostic and status data from gas, electricity or water metering devices. The AMR then transfers this data to a central database for billing, troubleshooting and analysis.
AMR technologies include handheld, mobile and network technologies based on telephony platforms (wired and wireless), radio frequency (RF), or powerline transmission.
There are three categories of AMRs:
- All can automatically communicate their findings, removing the need for manual meter readings
- The difference lies in how each type is able to do this
Modular reading devices that connect directly to your existing meter.
Don’t need to be attached to original meters. Supported by transporters on larger commercial sites.
Integrated directly into the meter itself.
A brief history of AMR
In 1972, Theodore George Paraskevakos developed a sensor monitoring system while working with Boeing in Huntsville, Alabama. The system used digital transmission for fire, security and medical alarm systems, along with meter reading capabilities for all utilities. Paraskevakos was awarded a patent for this technology in 1974.
In 1977, Paraskevakos launched Metretek, Inc., a company which developed and produced the first fully automated remote meter reading and load management system available commercially. The system was developed pre-Internet; it used an IBM series 1 mini-computer.
Initially, the primary driver for the automation of meter reading was to collect data that is difficult to obtain. For example, water meters are often installed in locations that require the homeowner’s help to gain access to the meter. Another driver in the adoption of AMR technology has been the demand from consumers to receive a gas, electricity or water bill based on actual readings instead of estimates.
Early AMR systems often consisted of drive-by or walk-by readings for residential customers; telephone-based AMR for industrial or commercial customers. In more recent years, there has been an increase in the use of fixed networks for AMRs.
What is AMR metering infrastructure?
Automated meter reading infrastructure (AMR metering infrastructure) and advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) use connected technology to read and monitor electric, gas and water utility distribution systems.
AMI infrastructure and AMR infrastructure typically consists of:
- A traditional utility meter
- An AMR device retrofit onto the traditional meter
- A data network that enables the real-time transfer of information
- An automated meter reading system application (ideally cloud-based)
This automated metering infrastructure enables the collection and analysis of consumption data for water, gas or electricity, turning traditional meters into smart meters for businesses and domestic premises.
What is the difference between an AMR and an AMI?
What is AMR?
Before the days of AMR technology, utility companies, businesses and homeowners would need to send a person to a meter to take a manual meter reading. An AMR unit can be retrofitted onto an existing meter to automatically ping the meter and get a current reading. The meter data is transferred to a database where it can be monitored, analysed and used to bill customers based on actual consumption.
AMR systems can be drive-by, walk-by or use fixed networks. Regardless of how the meter is read, the communication is one-way. In other words, the meter talks to the meter-reading device, but the device cannot send a command back to the meter.
What is AMI?
AMI stands for Advanced Meter Integration. The distinguishing feature between AMR and AMI is that AMI requires a smart meter to be physically installed by a qualified engineer replacing the existing meter. This is slow and expensive in comparison to an AMR implementation. These meters usually only transmit data infrequently (typically once a day) to the network. Without real-time data, true smart building management capabilities are restricted.
What’s the difference between an AMR and a smart meter?
These days there is very little difference. AMRs and AMIs can both allow you to read and manage data locally. Much of the differences will depend upon the communication network the system is connected to in order to backhaul the data to a smart building/management platform. A typical AMI will only provide data 24 hours in arrears, whereas an AMR connected to a network will provide near real-time data along with all the benefits of an AMI but without expensive installation. The main difference between the two approaches is that AMIs sometimes provide the additional ability to cut off supply remotely.
What is a smart meter?
Many smart meters allow consumers to review consumption in real time via a screen/device fitted at the user’s premises.
In the UK, smart meters are predominantly used by domestic and smaller non-domestic properties. All energy suppliers are mandated to take all reasonable steps to roll out smart meters to these consumers.
The two categories of smart meters
Smart Metering Technical Equipment Standard (SMETS) models:
- Models installed prior to 2018
- Generally rely on a 3G mobile network to relay data
- Lose functionality if provider change
- Newer models
- Relay data through a dedicated network
- Maintain functionality across all suppliers
Not all AMRs are created equal. Here we compare a Smarter Technologies’ AMR with a SMETS Smart Meter
|Information Provided||kWh Possibly peak kWh demand|
|Convenience||Readings are collected remotely, saving you time and hassle||Readings are collated by a third party and sent to your supplier|
|Budget certainty||Help with forecasting and reducing costs||Help with forecasting and reducing costs|
Should I get an AMR or a smart meter?
Whether you get a smart meter or AMR depends on your needs, budget and utility provider. If your existing meter is in good working order, adding an AMR turns it into a smarter meter quickly and cost-effectively by enabling a real-time view of consumption data. If this is all that you need, then an automated meter reader is sufficient for your needs.
However, it’s advisable to look into getting a smart meter if:
- Your existing meter is old and unreliable
- You need to facilitate two-way communication between your control centre and meter reader
- You need more in-depth information such as cumulative kWh usage, daily usage, peak kW demand, outage information, voltage information, time of use kWh and peak kW reading
- You need a smart energy display on the device showing consumption data and its monetary value
Types of AMR Technologies
One of the biggest technology challenges when implementing an AMR system involves choosing a communication path. This chapter discusses the available options.
It must be noted that making the move to wireless technology has the potential to deliver the greatest business benefits. Not only does a wireless AMR solution reduce the cost of manual meter reading, but it also enables near-real-time data transmission that can help utilities, businesses and property managers enhance revenues through demand efficiencies, increased operational control and reduced consumption.
How are AMR meters read?
Different types of automated meter reading systems are read in different ways. For example, a touch-based AMR requires a handheld computer or data collection device, whereas AMR systems that are connected via a data network can be read completely remotely.
What are the different types of AMR?
With touch-based AMR technology, a meter reader carries a handheld computer or data collection device which takes the readings from a meter by touching or placing the meter reader probe near to the device on the meter. The meter reading is matched to a serial number in a database and saved for later download to a billing or data collection computer. This is also referred to as “onsite” AMR since the meter reader still has to go to the site of the meter.
Radio frequency network
AMR using radio frequency (RF) to relay two-way or one-way data can take many forms, the most common of which include:
- Fixed network solutions
The major benefit of RF-based meter reading is that it eliminates the need for the meter reader to locate the meter and enter the premises. This means:
- Increased speed of reading
- Money saved
- Less liability from entering private property
- Fewer missed readings from being unable to access the meter
If you are a landlord and rent out your property (including a room within your own home), you have legal responsibilities to ensure the health and safety of your tenant. This includes keeping the property free from health hazards, such as Legionella risks. Although there’s no official ‘Legionnaires’ control certificate’, conducting a risk assessment and taking steps to mitigate Legionella risks demonstrates your commitment to tenant health and safety.
Two-way RF AMR
The radio signal is typically sent to an AMR meter’s unique serial number. This instructs the transceiver to transmit its data. Both the meter transceiver and the reading transceiver send and receive radio signals.
One-way RF AMR
The meter transmits continuously, sending data every few seconds. This means that the meter is a transmitter only and the reading device is a receiver only. Data only travels from the meter transmitter to the reading receiver.
Hybrid RF AMR
A hybrid RF AMR system combines one-way and two-way techniques. It typically uses one-way communication for meter reading and two-way communication for programming functions.
With handheld AMR technology, the person reading the meter carries a handheld computer that has a built-in receiver/transceiver (generally either radio frequency or touch) to collect meter readings. This is also referred to as “walk-by” meter reading.
Also known as “drive-by” meter reading, mobile AMR is when a reading device is installed in a vehicle. The reading device is able to automatically collect a meter reading as the meter reader drives past the meter. The reading equipment includes navigational features provided by GPS and mapping software. The driver doesn’t need to follow a specific route, but drives the service area until all meters have been read.
Components for mobile AMR often consist of:
- A laptop or computer
- RF receiver/transceiver
- External vehicle antenna
Transmitters for satellites that collect meter data can be installed near existing meters. The satellite AMR devices communicate with the utility meter for readings, then send the readings over a fixed or mobile satellite network. This AMR solution is particularly suited for regions with low geographic meter density, since it removes the need to send out field technicians and install fixed towers.
These days, many smart meters are designed to transmit using Wi-Fi. They can be read using a drive-by local Wi-Fi handheld receiver.
Power line communication (PLC) AMR
PLC is a type of fixed network system. Using this method, electronic data is transmitted over power lines back to the substation. It is then relayed to a central computer. PLC systems are primarily used for electric meter reading since they work over the distribution network used to deliver electric power.
Meter-Reading AMR Networks
Data networks such as the Orion Data Network provide a network of aerials that receive data in real-time from AMRss, allowing for true smart management of your utilities and buildings.
The Advantages of AMR
Automated meter reading systems with the ability to read usage data remotely have multiple benefits for utilities, businesses and consumers.
Indeed, an increasing number of utility companies rely on remote access to consumption data as a part of the end-to-end connectivity that is increasingly important to their business processes. Having data captured more frequently than the billing cycle requires only enhances this value further.
What are the benefits of AMRs?
In this chapter, we summarise some of the benefits of AMRs. In the next few chapters, we look into specific benefits for water, gas and electricity utilities as well as business and commercial premises.
Flexible, accurate billing
Actionable business insights
AMR for Water Utilities
The number of water utilities transitioning to smart water solutions and automated water meter reading systems is growing as companies look to address:
- Non-revenue water
- Customer service processes
- Operational efficiencies
- Ageing infrastructure concerns
In this chapter, we discuss the specific benefits that can be realised by water utilities by installing AMR smart water solutions.
What does AMR stand for in water meters?
AMR stands for ‘Automated Meter Reader’. This means that your water meter data is read and transmitted in real time instead of recorded manually.
Can my water be read remotely?
If you have an automated meter reader on your water meter or if you have a smart water meter, you’ll be able to read your water consumption data remotely.
How does an AMR water meter work?
An AMR water meter reads your water consumption data in real time:
- An AMR device is retrofitted onto an existing water meter
- The device connects to a data network
- Real-time water consumption information is relayed across the data network to a central management dashboard
- From here, the data can be monitored and analysed
What are the benefits of an AMR water meter system?
Capture lost revenue
The volume of water lost annually in the United States
In lost revenue
As water meters age, they can begin to slow down and lose accuracy by letting water pass through them without being metered. Ageing water meter infrastructure leaves many utilities covering the costs when accuracy drops and users are not billed correctly. An AMR water meter system provides timely and accurate readings, capturing the consumption data in near real time.
Reduce meter reading costs and errors
Collect water consumption data efficiently via walk-by, drive-by network or a combination of any of these methods. Automating the meter reading process eliminates the margin for human error and reduces human resource costs. Workers can also then be deployed into more critical roles.
Leaks in the distribution system literally leak money for water utilities, so the faster they can be attended to, the better. Having near real-time (or even more frequent) consumption data with a smart AMR water meter system allows you to identify leaks faster. With software, you’ll be able to set usage thresholds and be alerted when consumption rises above a certain level.
Improved customer service
Improving customer service is a top priority for water utilities. Accurate data and billing mean happier customers and faster closing of service calls. AMR smart meters for water also make it easier for customers to view, understand and manage their water consumption. For example, when a customer calls with a high water bill complaint, the representative can give him a complete picture of his consumption.
Accurate, transparent consumption data
Monitor and manage water usage to quickly analyse water consumption data
Accurate, regular consumption data helps water conservation managers and governments to better control and manage user consumption. In a water-stressed area, for example, customers could be placed on a personalised water budget depending on size. If customers exceed these allocations, they could be subject to higher water rates or penalties.
AMR smart meters for water utilities help to lower carbon footprints by removing the need to go onsite to read meters and investigate certain problems. By saving water, utilities can also reduce their carbon footprints and help meet net zero targets.
AMR CASE STUDY
In a pilot project in Dubuque, Iowa, smart water meters allowed citizens to view their home’s water usage data every 15 minutes. This led to:
Decreased in city water usage
Increase in leak detection
Smart meters for water
What is a smart metering system?
A smart metering system enables the digital monitoring of consumption data, which is transmitted automatically to the energy provider and/or customers. Smart metering uses wireless or other technology to record how much water is being used by a consumer and send the recorded data to a central point where billing can be carried ou and water monitoring can be managed.
What is smart metering for water?
Smart metering for water involves replacing traditional water meters with smart water meters that negate the need for manual water readings. Smart meters keep a real-time log of water consumption data, which is used for water monitoring and accurate billing.
Can you get smart meters for water?
Yes, smart meters are available for water. Minor alterations may need to be carried out to the external pipework or internal plumbing, but smart water meter technology is readily available and is being implemented widely across the globe.
What is the difference between AMR water meters and smart meters?
An AMR water meter is a device that is retrofit onto a traditional meter, whereas a smart meter for water is a new meter with connected technologies built into it.
How is a smart water meter read?
Most smarter water meters are fitted in an underground box near the property boundary that includes the principal stopcock. You can read the meter reading by opening the lid. You will see a digital display showing the number of cubic metres of water used, as well as some other data, depending on the smart water meter system.
Are smart water meters accurate?
One of the biggest water management problems for utilities and customers is inaccurate readings, which can result in inaccurate billing and many customer complaints. Because smart water meters rely on automated data taken at regular intervals in real time, the readings are more accurate than those taken sporadically using manual means.
A smart meter is more sensitive to low water flows than a traditional water meter, making it noticeably more accurate. Smart water metering systems are also able to prove in-depth reporting, which can also be automated.
In addition, traditional water meters tend to lose accuracy over time. On average, the equipment must be replaced every 15-20 years on average.
AMR for Gas & Electricity Utilities
Automated Meter Reading (AMR) and Automated Metering Infrastructure (AMI) technology provide gas and electricity utilities with a real-time connection to customers. This provides actionable information to both consumers and utility staff and a better understanding of the quality and distribution of gas and electricity products. Utilities are then able to make improvements to their reliability and efficiency, leading to financial benefits for the company and improved customer satisfaction.
Can I read my electric meter remotely?
If you have automated meter reading equipment, you may be able to read your electricity meter remotely, depending on the type of AMR system that you have in place. If you have a smart electric meter, you should also be able to read your meter remotely. This is one of the main benefits of AMR and smart meter technology.
Are AMR meters compulsory?
The rollout conditions of AMR meters depends on the supplier and regulations in the district. In most instances, however, the customer has a choice as to whether or not they would like to have an AMR meter installed. In the UK, government guidelines demand that all domestic buildings and small business premises must be offered the chance to receive a smart meter by 2024.
When it comes to AMR for businesses, some businesses are obligated to have AMR technology. In most places, new meter installations will only have AMR or smart metering technology.
What are the benefits of an AMR system for gas and electric utilities?
Improving load management
Any kind of smart metering brings with it the potential for improved load management and long-term planning. Armed with more data, energy utilities could feed into regional and national grid analyses and help provide more reliable and consistent energy around the country.
With more consumption data and analysis enabled by AMR and smart metering, gas and electricity utilities will be better prepared to deal with their own growth and scalability, as well as other external forces that impact energy delivery and the costs associated with it.
Many companies using AMIs that require sim cards for data transmission find difficulty in getting data coverage from a meter that is often in a basement or under the stairs and struggles to get network coverage. A low-power radio metering frequency like the Orion Data Network solves these communication issues.
Proactive problem solving
High-quality usage data could help gas and electricity providers locate outages faster and proactively attend to maintenance, rather than waiting for customers to report them. Along with improved customer services, this can reduce the cycle time on repairs and bring down overall maintenance costs.
Improved billing accuracy
By eliminating manual errors and billing estimates, AMR technology helps utility providers ensure more accurate and timely energy bills. Fewer billing errors and bill adjustments reduce the need for re-billing; accurate data expedites the bill inquiries that account for a high percentage of customer service calls.
Dealing with uncertainty in power supply and generation
Uncertainty in energy supply and generation is likely to lead to additional costs being passed to distribution utilities. AMR metering solutions provide the tools and flexibility for utilities to pass these charges on to consumers.
More flexible billing
AMR systems provide a clearer picture of gas and electricity consumption at different times of the day, week and year. Having this knowledge allows gas and electricity utilities to structure their pricing programmes and contracts accordingly, offering more flexible, mutually beneficial options to consumers, such as Time of Use (TOU) and Critical Peak Pricing (CPP).
Improved customer service
With AMR smart meters, gas and electricity utilities are able to blur the distinctions between meter reading and customer care. Before automated meter reading, the billing cycle would typically take weeks between reading and billing. With more rapid (and even real-time) access to consumption data with an AMR smart meter system, the lag time between reading and billing can be eliminated.
Customers who are able to see real-time usage and the corresponding spend are more likely to manage and reduce their consumption. Customers and gas and electricity utilities can work together to understand usage patterns and improve conservation opportunities.
Building the Business Case for AMRs
Building the business case for AMR smart meters depends on a host of variables, such as geographic area, utility type, customer profiles, local governments, and many more. For this reason, each utility should identify its own unique objectives for the implementation of AMR:
- Improved customer service
- Cost reduction
- Healthier cash flow
- Long-term planning
For example, a utility with a remote service area may choose to implement an AMR system in the areas where it can realise the highest and quickest return on investment.
To determine the potential benefits, a utility company needs a sound understanding of their operations, which aspects of automation will benefit them and where. In this chapter, we outline some of the considerations for a business case for AMR.
How smart AMR solutions can improve the bottom line
When utilities are only able to bill on a quarterly or bi-monthly basis, they typically have more accounts receivable issues due to larger customer bills. In contrast, more frequent, smaller bills can be easier for customers to manage. When it comes to disputes, the time between accurate readings makes it all the more difficult to collect money in arrears. AMR systems enable more regular more readings, and thus more regular billing. Changing to monthly billing also results in increased cash flows.
An AMR solution can significantly reduce – or even eliminate – estimated reads. In turn, this reduces the costs associated with re-billing accounts.
Simplified summary billing
Some utility companies provide summary bills to customers with multiple businesses within a specific service area. With AMR technology, the utility doesn’t need to hold all bills until a summary account is ready; AMR helps utilities avoid delays in summary billing by enabling flexible reading schedules.
Increased customer satisfaction
Water, gas and electricity utilities receive high volumes of customer enquiries. With AMR technology in play, companies report:
- A decrease in customer calls
- A decrease in abandoned calls
- An increase in overall customer satisfaction
While rolling out an AMR smart meter system, utilities have the opportunity to construct a new meter database with relevant fields and formatting. During this process, many utilities tend to find ‘new’ service connections as part of the rollout, either from accounts missing from their existing database or from illegal connections.
Safety and security
Keeping both employees and customers safe is a high priority. In addition, minimising exposure to dangerous situations helps utilities companies to avoid the potential negative ramifications of lawsuits. The more staff on the road, the more opportunities there are for an accident to occur. By eliminating the need for manual meter readings, AMR smart metering helps to reduce security risks.
Theft and leak information
The process of automation is known to deter theft of service if people are aware of a potential tamper monitor feature. In addition, more frequent and accurate energy usage and water leak information provided by an AMR system helps relevant parties to pick up on any abnormalities sooner.
Implementing an AMR system can help update ageing infrastructure. Over time, meters tend to run slower, resulting in utilities that go unaccounted and uncharged for.
Supplying energy during peak generation periods is more expensive. With the capability to provide customers with time-of-use pricing, AMR systems enable utilities to provide pricing options that encourage alternate usage patterns to avoid these expensive peak rates.
Potential challenges associated with AMR solutions
Increased customer service training
When implementing new technology such as AMR, customers may be confused or wary and may need additional support. Customer service representatives will need to be educated on the new technology and processes. Initially, during the rollout, call volumes could spike and extra resources may be required in the customer care department.
In addition, staff must be qualified to analyse and interpret complex utility rates.
Providing customers with more tools
To avoid overburdening the customer care centres, utilities companies will need to offer online information and tools to help consumers understand new billing options, analyse their usage and identify utility conservation opportunities. Proactive communication is critical to making an AMR rollout deliver on the financial promises of the original business case
It’s impossible for utilities with a large footprint to roll out new AMR smart metering systems in a single instance. The transition from old processes the new will increase process complexity until such time that everyone is on the same system.
AMR for Businesses and Landlords
Business owners, property managers and landlords are using AMR technology to put an end to estimated or visual meter reads. Data from the AMRs can be sent directly to a smart building management dashboard.
Take control of your utilities by owning your own data
AMR meters for gas, electricity and water offer a number of additional features over traditional models:
What are the benefits of AMR for business?
- No need for manual meter reads: AMR meters can be read remotely, so you no longer need to take and submit manual reads.
- No more estimated bills: AMR meter reads are sent to your supplier automatically so that your bills reflect actual usage rather than an estimate.
- Energy consumption data overview: significantly improves your ability to budget, forecast and manage your energy. It allows for more effective decision making and helps you identify consumption patterns.
- Easy installation: An AMR smart meter can be easily and quickly retrofitted to an existing meter without interrupting supply.
Tailored visibility delivered to your personal smart building dashboard
Smarter Technologies’ AMRs deliver data to a user-friendly dashboard, which you can access remotely from connected smart devices.
AMRs for simple sub-metering
AMR smart metering system is an ideal solution for properties with multiple meters and businesses with multiple locations.
- Being able to accurately manage individual consumption data leads to accurate and fairer billing for the relevant consumers.
- Having access to metering data remotely saves the time and hassle of manually taking individual meter readings.
AMR sub-metering is particularly useful for:
- Apartment blocks
- Military bases
- Corporate offices
- Boat marinas
- Shopping centres
With a look to the future, the AMR sub-metering industry is poised for further growth, with new AMR technologies being enhanced and developed to address a wider range of sub-metering applications.
Smarter AMR Solutions
Speak to a smart AMR expert
AMR and smart metering applications with wireless applications bring exceptional value to utilities, businesses and consumers alike. Key to a successful implementation and operation are a strong connectivity approach, a combination of technologies, and a cost-effective and reliable solution. Smarter Technologies’ AMR solutions are unique in that our AMRs are wireless, sim-free and easy to retrofit onto existing meters.
Connected via our proprietary Orion Data Network, our smart AMR solutions mean that you no longer need a human to read your meters. Our network provides near real-time readings without sim-cards and without the need to request a reading from the meter. Truly a smart system, this advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) approach dramatically improves efficiency and costs across your meter network.
Features of our Automated Meter Reader
- SIM free
- Easily retrofitted
- Easy to install; no engineer required
- Real-time utility consumption monitoring so that you can see exactly how much you are consuming over any given period
- Works underground and above ground
- No disruption to your utility supply
- Leak detection and alerts
- Visualise consumption control patterns
- Customisable and automated reporting
- Predictive energy optimisation
- Highly scalable system that grows with your business
Collaborating with an experienced partner such as Smarter Technologies greatly enhances AMR success in deployment and ultimate results and return in investment.
Contact us today to see how our smart AMR systems can benefit your business
Our experts are on-hand to advise you on the most efficient and cost-effective smart AMR solutions for your business' needs.
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