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Meter Reading Comes of Age

At a Glance

Over the last few years, utilities around the world have been trying to create value through more asset utilization—either by financial means (e.g., shorter days receivable) or physical means (e.g. lowest cost of operation).

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What is AMR?
Exploring New Territories

By Adrian Marcellus

High voltage towerAlmost all of us are familiar with the manual meter readings that are done at our premises. In fact, the meter reader pretty much represents the face of the utility company. However, manual meter reading is a labor-intensive and high-cost activity for a utility company.

There are also significant costs on top of the normal readings, such as additional readings, new connections and service disconnects. Furthermore, when meters are inaccessible, customer satisfaction is often jeopardized because the billing amounts have to be estimated and then re-adjusted to reflect the actual usage. At the end of the day, all this results in a higher number of complaints to the call centre, and increased operating costs.

Over the last few years, utilities around the world have been trying to boost ”asset exploitation,” i.e. create value through more asset utilization by either financial (e.g., shorter days receivable) or physical (e.g. lowest cost of operation) means.

What is Automated Meter Reading (AMR)?

AMR represents a series of technologies that enables meters to be read and data transferred without human intervention, i.e. meters are automatically read periodically.

Diagram 1: Components of an AMR Solution Enlarge Chart 1
The choice of wide area network (WAN) technology is one of the key drivers of overall system cost, because the cost of the remaining solution components is constant for a given level of metering functionality. The WAN options range from mobile wireless, telephony, and PLC (power line communication) to broadband and even satellite.

Exploring New Territories

While the introduction of AMR in the local market may be seen as a technology upgrade, it actually provides an opportunity for new business models to emerge. This could potentially transform the metering industry as we know it today.

Many utilities that have implemented AMR have established AMR-related businesses. A few companies now offer new services to other utilities, ranging from integrated and bundled customer management (e.g. meter reading and billing for gas, water, electric, sewer and waste water utilities) to AMR project management, installation and maintenance services. Some others have developed new business models that provide value-added services directly to end-customers. These services include monitoring and reporting on energy and building operating systems and performance contracting/consulting services.

AMR technology made substantial progress in the 1990s. This has contributed to the development of “smart meters.” These meters can be used not only for utility meter reading, but also to act as “residential gateways.” This development has resulted in non-traditional players emerging in this new market. Smart meters enable utility providers to directly access and control consumer appliances!

One application of this new technology is connecting home devices such as the electric meter, major appliances, light switches and A/C thermostat to the Internet. Consequently, consumers can now opt to use their appliances when the rates are at its lowest–helping them save on electricity expenses.

We see many business opportunities for Malaysia in using this new technology. However, Accenture’s experience globally also indicates a challenging road ahead.

First and foremost is the need for the key industry players to ensure that the technology providers, utilities and telecommunications companies have the right synergy to develop a business model that is market-relevant and viable. This is vital to change the way utilities and consumers view a meter. It is not merely a mechanical (or digital) device, but a rich provider of value-added information and a potential gateway to one’s daily activities.

Besides that, organizations must review the relevant regulatory and privacy regulations to ensure that service providers do not misuse the customer information. A very sophisticated security infrastructure is also important to prevent this type of abuse.

In summary, the benefits of the latest AMR technology would initially be limited to the areas of revenue enhancement and cost reduction. As the technology matures, it will be a driving force to help utilities innovate and uncover growth opportunities.

Source: Adrian Marcellus is a partner in the Malaysia Resources industry group -


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