Every electric utility understands the importance of smart meters and advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) in realizing Smart Grid objectives. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, 533 electric utilities in the USA alone had over 43 million smart meters installed in 2012 (last year for which statistics are available). But AMI is much more than just smart meters. The U.S. Department of Energy defines AMI as “an integrated system of smart meters, communications networks, and data management systems that enables two-way communication between utilities and customers.” So, AMI is not one technology but rather the integration of several. Consequently, the technical expertise, resources, and time needed to deploy, monitor, and manage an AMI system are complex and demanding.
That’s why most utilities find it more efficient and effective to work with a single experienced managed services provider who coordinates the entire AMI rollout, integration, operation, and evolution — as opposed to working with a meter provider and a communications provider and a data collection system provider, etc.
But what should you look for in an AMI services provider? What makes one “better” than another?
That’s the subject of a recently revised and re-released Schneider Electric white paper, The Three Pillars for an Efficient AMI Operation. The three pillars alluded to in the title can be boiled down as definition, development, and integration.
- Definition: comprehensive understanding of and focus on the utility’s goals and objectives when developing the AMI system
- Development: deep knowledge of operational processes, and the commitment to creating processes that best meet the utility’s needs
- Integration: IT capabilities to integrate the information collected by the AMI system
So, how can you tell whether an AMI services provider is able to deliver these three pillars? Nearly every utility will realize a more effective implementation when working with a company that meets three criteria. Think of these as the foundational elements for success—the pedestals on which the three pillars are built:
- appropriately trained and skilled people
- well-defined operation routines for everyday processes and procedures for non-routine problem management
- software tools that help the people execute the operation routines
The interplay among these three elements may differ from one utility to another. What’s important is that they are holistically intertwined. For example, people use the software tools to perform operations based on routines. The operation routines are defined by people to fit business processes. And that provokes customizing the software tolos.
Or we can look at the relationships another way: people define the operation routines to fit the business processes, and customizing the software tool follows, allowing people to use the tools for daily operations described in the routines.
Whichever relationship applies, there is always one constant, the three pillars for an efficient AMI operation: understanding the metering operation processes, adapting to changing needs, and having the IT capability to customize the software applications.