Many utilities view smart meters as an essential investment that can streamline operations and allow them to access the kind of data that’s increasingly essential to meet a diverse array of needs, from customer experience to outage management and decarbonization planning. But they’re only partly correct. While granular, timely meter data is indeed essential, smart meters and advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) frameworks are no longer the only way to get there. To help utility leaders and regulators better understand the pros and cons of different approaches, we recently published an overview of Key Questions to Ask Before Approving New Metering Infrastructure.


The need for a new approach to metering

As we describe in our Utility Dive article Utilities have done a great job installing advanced meters. It’s time to put that data to use. and blog article on the challenges of proprietary AMI networks, current AMI systems are far from ideal for utilities, even though the meters themselves have come a long way over the past decade. Not only are large-scale AMI deployments incredibly expensive and slow to complete (at a time when each of the last three years has seen record-setting utility rate increase requests), but they often result in single vendor-lock-in that can further raise costs and reduce flexibility even as they typically don’t deliver the expected customer-facing benefits.

At Copper, we think the solution is an AMx approach, where “x” encompasses nearly any type of existing meter, from simple low-cost meters that can deliver basic consumption data and meet billing needs to high-end smart meters gathering real-time waveform data. By delivering true interoperability, moving away from proprietary meter communication networks, and leveraging converged infrastructure—such as existing broadband—AMx can help utilities get more out of current metering technologies, remove platform compatibility as a differentiator, and enable smaller, more agile deployments when new meters or capabilities are needed. Simply put, AMx can help utilities reduce costs, gain flexibility, and more quickly realize the benefits of granular, timely data. It also can help with a growing but largely unmet need that’s essential to integrated energy planning, decarbonization, and challenges in the water-energy nexus: getting apples-to-apples views of end-use consumption across resources. 


The right questions can accelerate change

Despite the potential of pragmatic new approaches like AMx that make the most of modern technologies while also unlocking new value from existing investments to help keep rates affordable, utilities and regulatory commissions are often understandably slow to make the leap to new infrastructure investment frameworks. After all, in a heavily regulated industry where any changes directly affect virtually everyone in the region, it’s tempting to stick with a known (even if imperfect) solution, particularly when it takes years to plan and implement. But in the case of new investments in metering infrastructure (regardless of the type of meters utilities currently have), utilities and customers alike would benefit from a deeper exploration of factors such as:

  • Affordability
  • Interoperability
  • Data timeliness
  • Technological obsolescence
  • Alternative technologies
  • Cybersecurity
  • Integrated planning
  • Customer benefits
  • Resiliency

In our new guide to Key Questions to Ask Before Approving New Metering Infrastructure, we share suggested inquiries to make about each of these topical areas and add relevant context to each. Check it out to learn more!