By Steven Lupo
“Many of the end user/customer advantages promised by AMI 1.0 did not materialize.”
By Steven Lupo
November 19, 2021 – This is a pivotal time in the world of energy management and essential services.
As with other industries, advances in technology are helping to facilitate and streamline processes and, in particular, allow for better use of data to drive actionable results.
So, what makes this time so critical? What can we look forward to, and how will it affect energy managers and related stakeholders directly?
To better understand how far we’ve come, let’s start by taking a step back.
A new utility infrastructure
Starting about 15 years ago, there was a series of investments in advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) across Canada and the United States. In a nutshell, AMI enabled the application of basic technologies—including smart meters that could be used by all types of utilities—that established an initial data connection to the end customer.
The goal of these early-stage AMI projects (a.k.a. AMI 1.0) was to gain access to more data with the aim of improving operations and billing for utilities and municipal energy providers. With AMI in place, the backbone for smart meters was created. By eliminating the need for manual meter reads, this backbone released a flow of billing data to the utility which, in turn, helped establish operational efficiencies that are still being used today.
But while utilities were now able to collect vast amounts of data, they faced challenges with the sheer volume being sent and how to effectively action such data. AI and cloud computing were not yet common, so being able to organize and analyze the data in a way to make it actionable was difficult. Even with smart meters installed, data could not be leveraged to its full potential.
As a result, many of the end user/customer advantages promised by AMI 1.0 did not materialize. Things like real-time communication between the meter and the customer, home area networking, and detailed usage reporting couldn’t be realized or acted upon.
In fact, one could argue that AMI 1.0 was perhaps too focused on energy service providers, and not on the consumer experience.
As the technology continued to evolve, however, utilities and municipalities sought to take advantage of their existing technological infrastructure in a way that allowed them to better engage with residential, commercial, and industrial consumers. The data existed, but utilities needed a way to integrate and share the data into adjacent utility systems for actionable results.
For many utilities, the risk of technology obsolescence became apparent; a significant shift in the procurement process of AMI would be required to realize both the metrological and computational horsepower capabilities of smart meters and AMI systems (e.g. ability to run applications, memory size, along with base metering requirements).
Furthermore, those technologies that provide flexibility in the form of in-service, field-upgradability would prove essential toward ensuring the very best in mitigating the risk of technology obsolescence.
Today’s solution: AMI 2.0
Reinvestments are being made across the utility industry for new and improved AMI technologies. In fact, according to a report from Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewable, cumulative investment in AMI globally will rise to $127.6 billion US by 2025. And, from 2020 to 2025, they anticipate the number of total smart meters deployed globally will increase from about 1 billion to nearly 1.3 billion.
AMI 2.0 drastically improves upon the benefits from AMI 1.0, with an acute focus on citizen engagement and essential services management. This includes the application of technologies we have today—such as advanced communications, cloud services, and software data analytics—in a manner that improves essential services and the customer experience.
It also gives utilities the ability to benefit from two-way data sharing in new ways that benefit both provider and customer. This includes new sensors and meters equipped with software and intelligence that allows for real-time usage reporting and sharing, allowing customers to more easily manage their energy. Integration with existing popular in-home devices and appliances will be essential to empowering citizens. The same data allows utilities to better manage the flow of energy during on-peak times and off-peak times.
As an added bonus, AMI 2.0 doesn’t necessitate a “rip and replace” method of replacing all existing meters. While there will be some updates that occur, many existing smart meters can be upgraded with new features through a software upgrade avoiding major environmental impacts from stranded assets/meters.
Nowadays, having actionable data at your fingertips is a consumer expectation. AMI 2.0 provides a platform of possibilities by allowing data to be fully leveraged by both consumers and the provider.
It will better help customers—including energy managers and homeowners—to not only get information in a more meaningful way, but provide clear, actionable intelligence from such data.
Consider the news in Ontario, where the province recently announced that most electricity and natural gas utilities in the province will need to enact the Green Button standard in 24 months. This allows utility customers to download data about their natural gas and hourly electricity use and authorize its transfer to applications that will not only analyze the information, but potentially offer tips and ideas on how consumption can be reduced.
Utilities that choose to implement AMI 2.0 services will see improvements in data rates, bandwidth and bit rates. The increase in speeds can be attributed to new versions of the networking technology that powers the transformation. In the end, AMI 2.0 is a system upgrade that results in increased network reliability and more reliable exchanges of data.
Energy services providers will be partners in energy management, as opposed to simply measuring consumption, and citizens will be better served with insights needed to drive accountability, reduce carbon footprints, and curb the need for more generation.
A more digitized world
Most people don’t have access to much detail when it comes to their energy usage. Sure, they get their bill at the end of the month, but it doesn’t tell them, for example, how much energy each machine in their building or appliance in their home is using.
Imagine if you could see that level of detail, anticipate operational changes or issues, and how that might impact your ability to manage consumption. Appliances could be turned off when not in use, or a case for more energy-efficient lighting might be made. While utilities and municipalities have typically focused on physical, asset-based infrastructure, that focus is changing… and AMI 2.0 represents a shift to more digital assets and a true partnership between energy providers and consumers.
Being able to use energy more efficiently extends beyond smart meter data. Most consumers are familiar with appliances like Nest, Ecobee, Alexa and Google Home, and utilities and municipalities want to ensure they stay relevant within the connected business and home. Connectivity directly into the business or home through sensors and appliances allows utilities to better serve their customers, know when appliances might need service and, ultimately, allows for a drastically improved customer experience.
At an electrical panel, for example, sensors can be installed to monitor the use of each circuit breaker, or report if something is failing. In industrial facilities, sensors are deployed to track and optimize resources to ensure the best possible service, provide advanced notification of service requirements, safety alarm reporting and more.
For facility managers in particular, this sort of data capture can mean more than just energy savings; it can also mean significant cost reductions. As an example: one Canadian business had ramp heaters installed to melt snow during the winter. Unfortunately, no one realized the heaters were left on all summer—an error that can be quite costly.
With sensors in place, facility managers would not only have known the ramp heaters were on but, during regular operation, they could monitor temperatures, track the heaters’ performance and adjust the temperatures for key times to save energy.
In Smart Buildings, leveraging existing and new AMI networks to extend use cases beyond energy management and into building safety and security is a natural evolution of the technology. Air quality, leak detection and security are great examples of progressing technology in this space.
To be considered AMI 2.0, solutions need to be flexible, offer increased bandwidth, processing, and memory capabilities to serve the evolutionary needs of citizens and critical emissions-driven initiatives. AMI 2.0 provides a platform of possibilities, drastically improving how we manage energy and the critical assets that distribute it.
To get started, organizations need to work closely with technology leaders and establish a pragmatic, agile-based approach that safeguards against stranded assets and benefits both providers and citizens.
Steven Lupo is Managing Director, Canada, at Trilliant, where he leads the Canadian operations. He possesses 20 years of successful business experience leading both early-stage and established energy management, utility services, and smart metering/grid businesses. Steven also has significant global supply chain, manufacturing, and operations experience.