Guest Commentary: AMI/AMR Standardization

Implementing automatic meter reading (AMR) and advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) has been shown to help water utilities reduce operating expenses, increase revenue, refine rate structures, prioritize projects, communicate with customers, and inform conservation programs. However, utilities deciding whether to deploy these technologies are faced with a lack of standards as well as incompatibilities between systems and components developed by different manufacturers.

The lack of standards has led to differences between batteries, wiring, housing, and transmission power. The lack of compatibility between system components extends to programming units and connections with external devices, such as acoustic monitors used for leak detection. Therefore, to implement these technologies, a utility must rely on consultants or invest in a time-consuming process of learning about the systems and components from multiple outside sources or from pilot projects. Additionally, because of the lack of interoperability, it is difficult for a utility to change to a different vendor.

Establishing standards for AMR and AMI systems and components would help by:

  • Setting minimum performance levels;
  • Increasing interoperability;
  • Encouraging competition between vendors;
  • Enabling industry experts to improve products.

Water utilities have identified several high priorities for standardization, including the robustness and reliability of data transmitters, the reliability and speed of data collectors, and more useful methods for data management. Responding to utilities that are concerned about these issues and seeking solutions, the Water Research Foundation funded research project #4467 — AMR/AMI Standardization for Drinking Water Systems — to identify requirements and specification criteria for water utility AMR/AMI systems and to outline approaches to develop and implement standards that address water utility needs. 

Over 50 utilities have been actively engaged in the project to date and research investigators have relied heavily on them to provide their views on the most important issues in this area. Vendors have been included in the project from the beginning as well. Several recommendations have already been agreed on. Project participants envision the use of a descriptive standard language to be used by all AMR/AMI vendors. The utility and research teams on the project have developed a list of elements that are required in the language.

It is believed that if utilities were to incorporate this standard-like language into RFPs, the effect would function like a standard and improve communication between utilities and vendors during the purchase and implementation process for AMR and AMI systems. Additionally, it will be important to build a utility network that will promote the developed language and provide the opportunities for discussing related issues. Ideally, webinars and workshops would help grow this effort and vendors and other interested parties would be invited to participate.

The success of this network would depend on input and support from various entities, including:

  • Water utilities
  • Meter vendors
  • Meter reading system vendors
  • Meter data management system vendors
  • AMR/AMI component suppliers
  • Other Suppliers
  • Consultants
  • Associations
  • The water industry overall

The final project report will be available by July of 2015. In the meantime, the researchers and working group are focusing on the following items:

  • Continue language preparation;
  • Draft interoperability requirements;
  • Develop network guidelines;
  • Continue seeking feedback;
  • Build the utility network to promote the developed language.

AMR and AMI systems hold great promise for water utilities through standardization and interoperability. WRF project #4467 will help meet that promise.