In the past one decade, the natural gas industry has taken major steps to change gears from conventional metering to smart metering. The days when city gas distribution (CGD) companies used to send their representatives to manually take meter readings from every household are now past. The conventional meter reading collection process was not only time-consuming and prone to human error (while noting down the reading from the meter in registers), but also inefficient.
Taking a meter reading most often requires access to consumer premises, raising privacy issues and objections from many consumers. Often, meter readers do not get access to the meters as homes are found locked. Thus, bills are made on assumptions, which is the primary reason for dissatisfaction among customers. With the increasing number of gas meter installations, the entire meter reading; collection and billing exercise has become even more tedious.
These are some of the many compelling reasons why CGD companies are gradually making the shift from the manual meter reading process to automated meter reading (AMR). With consumption data flowing into the central server at predefined intervals, CGD companies have everything they need to perform precise billing with ease. With plenty of consumption data in hand, CGD companies also get an opportunity to analyse consumer usage patterns and utilise this analysis for varied applications like better customer service, load distribution management and monitoring of critical activities vital for the efficient operation of gas metering equipment.
Raychem RPG offers many options for gas distribution companies, which facilitate the implementation of the AMR system. A quick look at some of the options that are more popular these days…
- Radio frequency-based AMR system: This can be implemented in one of the following ways depending on the different metering needs:
- Walk by and drive by data collection: In this mode, meter readers are equipped with a handheld unit along with a smartphone that has an app installed in it. The mobile app will provide step-by-step navigation to the meter reader to cover predefined routes for collecting meter reading. The meter reader will walk/drive through the guided route and the meter data will get collected from the gas meters. Once the entire route is covered, the meter reader can then easily push the entire collected stream of data through the smartphone over a secured internet connection to the central control room. Servers running in the control room will then process the collected data in various forms and feed the necessary information to the billing server, data analysis and customer service departments.
- Fixed network data collection: This mode is an “upgraded” version of the walk by/drive by AMR system. In this, the meter readers instead of walking/driving through defined routes, collect the data with the assistance of network elements laid in a mesh network following a thorough survey and pretesting.
- GSM/GPRS-based AMR system: In areas where gas meters are not installed in the vicinity, the deployment of walk by fixed network type AMR systems is not a commercially viable solution and this is where GSM/GPRS-based AMR systems come into the picture. This type of AMR system does not require network elements as specified in the above option. Instead, it utilises a GSM/GPRS network to communicate the data. It is more suitable for commercial and industrial consumers.
- Prepaid meters: This solution is ideal for consumer groups such as non-resident Indians, who do not use their gas connections for more than a few months in a year and, therefore, do not wish to pay recurring bills for their gas meters. Consumers need to pay upfront for their gas consumption and the amount gets credited to their smart prepaid gas meter account. These meters are equipped with in-built intelligence to monitor consumption and reduce the credit balance on usage. These meters are smart enough to send a recharge reminder once credit falls to the programmed threshold level. If a consumer wishes to discontinue the connection and not recharge further, these smart meters can, with the help of inbuilt motorised valves, close the gas line safely.
- AMR system for commercial and industrial customers: Commercial and industrial (C&I) customers come under the major consumers’ category as their gas consumption varies from a few hundred cubic metres per day to a few thousand cubic metres per day. It is crucial for such high-consumption customers to monitor their daily usage and smart metering plays a primary role in it. Gas distribution companies invest wisely in the implementation of the necessary AMR systems, which allows distributors to provide historical gas consumption data and other important details related to their usage patterns. Commercial diaphragm meters are mostly hooked up with electronic data loggers. Likewise, industrial consumers are provided with metering skids having bigger gas meters such as rotary positive displacement meters or turbine gas meters interfaced with digital equipment like volume corrector/flow computers. These data loggers, volume correctors and flow computers most commonly have sensors to accept pulse inputs from the gas meters and keep logging the consumption data in non-erasable memory. The smart devices are made in such a way that they can monitor process parameters critical for the correct operation of equipment. What’s more, they also keep a check on unauthorised activities, which trigger an alarm if any attempt is made to tamper with the metering system. An incident alarm is logged in the logbook and real-time SMSs/ emails are sent to the site supervisor for immediate attention and necessary action. As the entire metering data gets collected at the central server, it can be accessed by customers through the web application. The data is represented in various forms such as tables, charts and options to review gas consumption logs for a particular interval – hour, day, month, year, and so on. This is a big value addition for customers as it enables them to review their usage patterns and allows them to take proactive steps to manage it efficiently.
Undoubtedly, with the implementation of the smart meter reading collection system, gas distribution companies can do away with estimated bills and improve their billing efficiency, thus gaining customer confidence. It can also help them extend better customer services by providing real-time information on consumer usage patterns, sending relevant notifications through the mobile app to consumers, and proposing innovative methods to utilise this precious source of energy.
Raychem RPG has introduced advanced solutions to meet the smart metering needs of gas distribution companies. These can go a long way in improving gas services and ensuring customer satisfaction.
By Raychem RPG