Over the past two decades, energy and water utilities across North America have successfully installed hundreds of millions of advanced meters in their territories. Despite this impressive technological achievement, however, most smart meter (AMI) deployments generally haven’t delivered the full set of promised benefits, and the accompanying proprietary networks have led to entrenched monopolies for the primary two AMI meter manufacturers—the same manufacturers that are now asking for more money to fund a “second wave” of AMI deployments. Rather than ripping out perfectly good infrastructure to address these problems, utilities should instead consider adopting an “AMx” strategy (where “x” is a variable that encompasses any type of advanced meter, from yesterday’s drive-by meters to the latest smart meters) that aims to make better use of existing investments.
AMx delivers on the promised benefits of more granular and timely consumption data while layering on additional new value streams and minimizing system-wide costs so that utilities can keep rates low and better invest capital expenditure budgets in more critical areas such as system resiliency and decarbonization. At its core, AMx is about converging infrastructure—for example, by using as existing broadband networks—to get even more out of current metering technologies. This kind of approach wasn’t possible when smart meters were first deployed, but interoperable communications technologies and solutions have come a long way in the past 15 years. Utilities no longer need to take a meter-first approach to data management.
By supporting a best-of-breed ecosystem, AMx helps ensure that each participant delivers the most benefits at the lowest cost. Rather than encouraging meter vendors to build communications networks or try to force app-based customer solutions into ever-more-complicated meters (resulting in shorter useful lives), this kind of approach fosters a renewed focus on simply collecting the best possible data at the lowest cost. Other specialized vendors can then focus on system elements like data communications and cloud-based analysis and insights that can better empower grid operators and consumers alike. The best-of-breed approach enabled by AMx also makes it easier for utilities to manage infrastructure in a more incremental and agile fashion, such as replacing small groups of meters as they near end-of-life with whatever solution best fits current needs, rather than resorting to a more comprehensive (and potentially unnecessary) rip-and-replace approach through a single vendor.
AMx offers substantial and immediate benefits by enabling utilities to:
- Ensure that precise and timely energy or water consumption data is available down to the distribution extremities (premise level, also known as the “last mile”) by increasing the quality of data collected from existing meters and the speed at which it’s shared with both the utility and its customers, and enable coordinated reporting across resources.
- Reduce costs by avoiding premature meter replacements, identifying opportunities to leverage converged infrastructure, and finding new ways to make better use of the myriad existing data streams already being created.
- Reduce cybersecurity risk by keeping meters focused on data collection, not communications or edge-computation, and shifting to more secure and cost-effective cloud-based data analysis and AI-powered insight generation.
- Increase flexibility and spur new innovations by moving away from the proprietary communications networks of previous generations of AMI deployments to a more agnostic approach that allows mixed meter portfolios.
For utilities focused on meeting essential emerging challenges in areas ranging from affordability and equity to decarbonization, resiliency, load flexibility, and customer experience, enhanced consumption data is a foundational building block. AMx represents an iterative approach to accessing new value streams from utilities’ existing investments—and to more quickly identifying best practices for putting timely, granular consumption data to use—without the traditional time and expense of unnecessary and redundant new AMI deployments.
The AMx framework is a core strategic shift that will support the electric, gas, and water utilities of the future. At Copper Labs, we’re excited to be at the vanguard of an emerging ecosystem of innovative utilities, vendors, and solution providers that enable it, and welcome all those who are interested in partnering to make it a lasting success.