How advanced metering has rocked the utility revenue protection world
Utility revenue protection activities are not like they used to be. Advancements in meter technology, reading, and data collection have had a major impact on revenue protection department operations, and for some utilities, present opportunities for a paradigm shift.
Meter reading in the field
With the manual meter reading process, meter readers—utility employees—in the field served as the revenue protection department’s primary source for leads. The monthly reading data provided little insight into customers’ usage patterns, however. The bulk of the department’s work consisted of reacting to visual observation reports of tampering meters.
Meter reading began to evolve with the introduction of automated meter reading (AMR) devices, fitted to traditional electro-mechanical meters. AMR made good business sense, but it offered mixed benefits:
> Fixed network AMR offered more granular data, through daily (or more frequent) reads, while drive-by AMR typically provided only monthly reads.
> There were no more eyes in the field to spot mechanical tampering, which was still a problem.
> Without additional information, the tamper codes generated by AMR meters offer limited benefits.
A major technological advancement occurred through solid-state meters, which provide much more data than their electro-mechanical predecessors:
> Event logs, error codes, and outage reports can help to identify problem accounts.
> Interval data can help to identify theft patterns.
Solid-state meter devices are more susceptible to failure, however. Also, tampering is more difficult, though still possible. Nonetheless, the benefits outweigh these liabilities.
New data, new opportunities
Advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) leverages the advancements of solid-state meters by offering a continual stream of data and, thus, increased accessibility to the information:
> Near-real-time meter data is available.
> Meter alerts indicate unusual conditions.
> Event logs track activity at the location.
> Interval data from every meter facilitates better customer load profiling.
This robust new data stream provides a solid foundation for data analytics. AMI data collection (head-end) systems and meter data management systems help transform the raw meter data into viable investigative leads. Revenue protection departments can become more proactive in leveraging the data and less reactive—reliant on field reports. Some utilities have opted to perform extensive advanced in-house analytics, with some success. Third-party analytics can expand the value of data.
In addition to enhancing traditional theft-of-service revenue recoveries, advanced metering data can also support engineering, planning, and operational functions to help reduce technical system losses.
Is your utility ready to embrace the change?
Revenue protection has historically been on the periphery of many utilities’ operations. The company-wide applicability of advanced metering data should place the concept of revenue protection at center stage, with connections to all departments. This would be a major paradigm shift for many companies. Smart utilities will utilize smart meter data to migrate revenue protection from a limited, reactive theft recovery function to a corporate-wide mindset focused on total revenue losses across all business processes.
John Kratzinger, senior revenue protection supervisor at PECO Energy, and I will present “Advanced Meter Data and Its Impact on Utility Revenue Protection Activities” at DistribuTECH, January 25, 2012, 1:30–3:00 p.m.