Meter reading has evolved from the relatively labor intensive task associated with manual reading (pre 1980), to wand style touch reading (1980 to present) followed by automatic meter reading (AMR) or “Drive by” radio reading beginning in the late 1990s. Today, many utilities are converting to fixed base advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) antennas for collecting radio reads remotely.
Today’s AMI systems can minimize time for reading and billing but often result in data intensive processes. Multiple endpoints with transmitters powered by small batteries can now be monitored and data collected at will for a variety of analytical uses. Reliable, well proven AMI technologies are now available and systems often must be tailored to each utility’s specific needs and existing meter assets. Understanding the differences of the current systems, common pitfalls, and previous project successes will help streamline the decision and implementation process for utilities that are considering AMI.
Early decisions must include selection/verification of the appropriate vendor technology coupled with a solid technical, operational, and financial analysis in order to justify those decisions to related committees, the Board of Public Utilities, and customers. While the benefits of AMI can be many, hybrid systems that involve a combination of AMR and AMI capabilities are often more appropriate. Much of this determination will be made based on topography and anticipated benefits of AMR over AMI systems. Critical parallel pilot studies being conducted by the utilities department will be taken into consideration in this process.
When assessing the capabilities of radio read systems, several important factors must be considered early in the process. Network topology, the overall communication system architecture, should be first on the list. The two primary topologies include mesh systems and star systems. Mesh systems involve peer to peer communications of multiple collectors and endpoints in order to convey reading signals to a common collector or head end. A star, or point to multi-point system, will typically have fewer antennas or a single antenna depending on coverage needs, placed at strategic locations to increase coverage.
Communications from the endpoints to the collector can vary from one way transmitting at predetermined intervals to full two way communications whereby the endpoints can be queried upon request from the utility. Some of the more important considerations include:
- Licensed versus unlicensed frequencies
- Radio coverage and strategy for addressing areas with poor coverage
- Endpoint power (varies from 0.25 to 2 watts)
- Location of collector hardware, number and height of collectors
- Endpoint and collector data storage capabilities
- Billing software compatibility
- Customer and utility billing software features (dashboards, alarms, etc.)
Battery life is another important consideration given the fact that the meters are placed in the ground and must transmit reliably when polled by the collector or end user at the head-end.
MC Engineering specializes in investigating client specific issues and finding an AMI offering that will satisfy their unique needs.