Why Automatic Meter Reading Systems Are Essential for Utility Management in 2023

August 21, 2023
advanced metering infrastructure


For many decades, manual utility meter reading was the only consumption tracking option for utility companies. Thankfully, now we have automatic meter reading (AMR), advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), and smart meter technology. 

It would be difficult to overstate the impact of these technologies that have revolutionized information exchange between utilities and consumers. 

Traditional metering—consisting of manual readings, long-term estimations, and delayed corrections—was a cumbersome process. In 2023, those days are quickly moving into the rearview mirror. AMR and AMI technology transfers customer usage data automatically and precisely. This enables metering and billing that’s fast, transparent, and resource-efficient, presenting a win-win for utilities and their customers. 

What’s the Difference Between AMR and AMI? 

AMR refers to an automatic meter reading process that requires a degree of manual operation from a utility provider. Utility personnel use a handheld device to instantly gather information from the meter, such as consumption data, and transfer it to a database. While this is convenient, AMR systems are not able to transmit a command back to the meter itself. 

AMI, on the other hand, refers to a utility infrastructure that encompasses the full scope of utility management. Unlike AMR, the AMI system will utilize smart metering to send and receive data from utilities. You can also use them to manage service, such as disconnecting a line or to identify potential instances of tampering. 

While AMI has been adopted in many places, AMR still does have a role in certain environments. As “advanced metering infrastructure” implies, implementing an AMI system requires many upfront costs to remove previous infrastructure and replace it. For small towns or rural communities where budgetary constraints may be tighter, it may not be feasible to use AMI. 

Because AMR can be used more easily with older meter technologies, this still provides a useful solution for utility providers that have to work with meters not enabled with smart technology. You can still automatically transmit data to your headquarters and save on time and expenses involved with more traditional, manually driven forms of meter reading. 

Even in places where an AMI system is fully implemented, no automated system is without occasional errors. Having a secondary layer, such as an AMR solution, can also enable utility professionals to easily and quickly gain a second opinion if any discrepancies in the AMI data are suspected. 

Where Do AMR and AMI Provide Benefit Customers? 

Transparency With Customers

Billing based on manual meter readings is vague and confusing for customers, resulting in unpredictable bills. For a customer whose bills become drastically higher after a reading, the entire process may seem unclear or even untrustworthy. 

With automatic meter readings through an AMR or AMI, accurate usage data is immediately available to both the customer and the utility. Each bill reflects actual usage, rather than an estimate which will need to be adjusted at a later date. This major improvement in billing transparency improves customer trust and satisfaction, helping utilities maintain strong reputations and high customer retention rates. 

According to a December 2022 electric utility customer satisfaction survey by J.D. Power, a primary reason for customer satisfaction declining among residential electric customers is due to a major drop in price satisfaction. Having more accurate, transparent data along with excellent service can help to improve customer relationships and decrease friction. 

Equip Customers With Real-Time Consumption Data

The speed at which information travels with AMR and AMI technology helps customers tune in to their usage patterns. With access to real-time consumption data, customers can monitor how much electricity, gas, or water they’re using.

Customers with access to real-time usage data can better understand how certain behaviors, such as thermostat adjustments, affect their utility use—and their bills. Customers who monitor their usage are also better able to notice unusual spikes or patterns. This leads to faster identification of billing errors and costly malfunctions such as water leaks or damaged appliances. 

Help Customers With Budgeting and Utility Expense Management

Along with the short-term benefits of being able to monitor real-time consumption data, AMR and AMI also assist customers in long-term utility expense budgeting. Improved planning based on better usage data may involve:

  • Lifestyle adjustments to reduce long-term consumption
  • Planning for large utility expenses, such as appliance replacements
  • Budgeting for seasonal billing spikes based on past use

With automatic meter reading, interested customers have all of the information they need to consistently monitor their usage and plan accordingly for utility expenses. 

How Do AMR and AMI Benefit Utilities? 

Provide Better Customer Service

Compared to manual meter readings, automated solutions provide utilities with an enormous improvement in customer service. With fewer mysteries and surprises on bills, utilities enjoy reduced call volume and fewer disputes. This makes it easier to devote sufficient customer service resources to each inquiry, paving the way to higher customer satisfaction rates. 

Proactive Decision-Making and Resource Management

Automated meter reading benefits for utilities are similar to those enjoyed by customers. Namely, information is power, and AMR and AMI systems represent an enormous boost in available data. There’s no comparison between waiting several months to assess manual readings vs. automatically monitoring real-time data. 

Making use of enhanced data access, utilities are better able to detect and respond to trends in real time. This allows for better resource management. Utilities can more easily plan ahead, maintaining available supplies that meet consumer demand while making the most efficient use of resources.  

Generate Analytics and Insights Seamlessly

Large, detailed utility data sets enable providers to perform sophisticated data analysis on consumer demand and other variables. Compared to working with manual reading data, it becomes significantly easier to compare usage across different communities or different time periods. This helps utilities improve their analysis in areas like consumption prediction, anomaly tracking, and crisis aversion planning. 

Unlike manual forms of reading meters, AMRs and AMIs provide an objective view of the numbers in their current state. You do not need to rely on a person’s own interpretation of the figures and facts and can instead view them in their rawest, clearest state. 

Utility companies that make good use of data are able to gain valuable insights regarding consumer behavior. Trends that would be invisible without AMR become clear and useful. These insights into past behavior provide essential guidance for a utility’s approach to strategic planning. 

Drive the Most Value from Your AMR or AMI with silverblaze

Data and analytics driven by AMR and AMI are the most powerful decision-making tools for utilities, but even more so when combined with effective customer engagement and billing systems. To start generating tangible value from a streamlined utility management and engagement system, contact silverblaze today to schedule a software demo.

It’s time to stop worrying about all the issues that come with low customer engagement, and instead, transform your operations to become the leading utility company in your area.

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