American Gas - August 2012 - (Page 12)
IN THE KNOW
Getting Smarter About “Smart Meters”
AMI isn’t the same for gas as it is for electric. Understanding the difference may be crucial to achieving AMI’s benefits.
dvanced metering infrastructure systems have taken root among electric utilities and water utilities as these industries have discovered benefits such as cost savings, better customer service, and improved operational efficiency. For natural gas utilities, the two-way communication that AMI enables has the potential to improve emergency response and maintenance efficiency as well. But natural gas utilities have been relatively slow to adopt this technology. Unlike their electric counterparts, all-natural-gas utilities do not have aboveground infrastructure for mounting a radio network such as line poles and ready access to electricity. Typically, this access comes at an additional monthly operational expense— sometimes requiring the purchase of specialized trucks and equipment—and the access may be restricted. At Atmos Energy, we were intrigued by the potential of AMI, but we had additional challenges to overcome. As one of the country’s largest natural gas distribution companies, our service territory includes more than 3 million customers mainly in the Midwest and South. It ranges from the densely populated Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex to hundreds of sparsely populated rural towns. Besides serving such a widely dispersed area, we must satisfy regulations of numerous federal and state authorities, as well as more than 600 municipalities in Texas. After researching the options, we were pleased to discover a technology that would minimize the infrastructure and associated costs necessary to run our network. The Sensus FlexNet™ system offered us high-power transceivers, robust base station receivers, and an intelligent regional network data interface that
returns data gathered from meters to the utility. Radio traffic from the transceivers operates on FCC-approved frequencies instead of crowded public Wi-Fi airspace. This enables high-power transmissions on clear radio spectrum, covering larger areas with fewer collectors compared to other systems. The range makes it economically feasible for Atmos Energy to bring wireless meter reading to its more remote locations.
Lessons Learned from Electric Utilities
Today’s gas meters are accurate and reliable devices. Unlike the electric smart grid, AMI implementation for gas utilities does not require replacing the meters. Instead, wireless transmitters are added to a utility’s existing gas meters. The meter and its index are unaffected when the transmitter is attached. Therefore, the meter readings are uninterrupted, resulting in an AMI implementation that is virtually seamless to the customer. This has simplified our rollout of the AMI system. Despite this key difference in AMI implementation for gas and electric utilities, gas companies still must address customer questions and public concerns first raised about the electric smart grid. For example, in Texas, electric customers who had smart meters installed questioned their accuracy and complained that their bills were too high. Studies by the Texas Public Utility Commission found the meters were highly accurate, but installation errors had eroded public confidence in the AMI system. Atmos Energy was planning a gas AMI implementation in some of the same neighborhoods where the electric AMI program had provoked a backlash. Drawing from the lessons learned by electric utilities, Atmos Energy took
DAVID ANGLIN is director of regulated operations at Atmos Energy.
AMERICAN GAS AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2012
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of American Gas - August 2012
American Gas - August 2012
In the Know
Taming the Talent Pipeline
Places to Be
Facts on Gas
American Gas - August 2012