Enhance Utility Operations: Automatic Meter Reading

October 10, 2022

Have your energy prices gone through the roof yet? If not, you’re probably one of the very few lucky people. Having bill shock is becoming a fleeting emotion; the yearly meter reading is occasionally followed by an “Oh, not again” and a sigh…

In a time where energy prices are rising, providing accurate and up-to-date meter readings is becoming vital. People value frequent insight into their utility consumption more than ever, but the question lies in whether or not energy suppliers are able to provide this. Advanced meter reading systems enable data insight, allowing companies to lower costs, have accurate data, and satisfy customers — solutions that challenge traditional collection methods. 

Following the UK’s Wholesale Retail Code (WRC), there are four methods to obtain the meter read value:

  • Visual reading
  • Customer reading
  • Remote reading
  • Estimated reading

In this article, we'll discuss the first three.

Meter reading methods explained

1. Visual readings

With the rise of advanced meter reading systems, you’d be surprised to know that the traditional meter reading process is still in fashion for many utility companies. The ‘visual read’ process goes like this: 

The meter reading process, explained through a linear process from top to bottom
The traditional, visual meter reading process explained.

However, often somewhere along the process, things get lost in translation – quite literally. Here’s the usual outcome: the service provider makes an error while reading, data is inaccurate, not stored, and bills are wrongly estimated. On top of that, doing frequent meter readings that enable frequent usage data is too expensive with this method. 

2. Customer readings

In some cases, consumers are asked to submit their own meter readings - despite their meters being hard to read, dirty, or simply out of reach. This method requires consumers to have more responsibility over their meter readings, and a high pressure to do it frequently.

Both the challenging metering conditions and the lack of expertise create a significant problem: on average 5-10% of the submitted data contain errors. This results in an enormous amount of time and money being spent on manually validating and correcting all mistakes.

3. Remote readings

Due to these challenges, the utility sector strives for easy and accurate meter data collection. An excellent way to ensure smooth and reliable operations is to automatically collect data in a frequent manner. That way, data can be processed within seconds and feedback is immediately given! Collecting data remotely can come from various sources: an electronic outreader, an AMR, a smart meter, an Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI), or data logging device. This comes with various benefits, both to utility companies and consumers.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               

The benefits of automatic meter reading

For utility companies, the journey toward efficient operations begins with automation. Why? There are several ways in which remote reading impacts the utility industry, namely:

1. Better data 

Many energy suppliers do not provide fully accurate and extensive data. When done manually, fraud or human error is often the outcome. High data quality and quantity: rare, but valued. 

The automatic meter reading was introduced to utility companies for measuring smart meters, bringing transparency, detailed insights, and fraud proof to their data. The main difference between a traditional meter and an AMR water meter is the frequency of data collection. The real-time nature of AMR data allows for a wide range of benefits, enabling customers and businesses to transform costs and consumption. Now, there’s a better chance of sending out accurate bills to customers. 

2. Lower costs

The traditional meter reading process that relies on the human eye for collection involves a lot of avoidable costs. For companies, it is a lot easier and cost-effective to faultlessly read meters using an automatic meter reading solution, capturing consumption data through photographing a meter.

The last thing we all want is a wrongly estimated bill. Once that happens, you can expect the customer assistance office to be filled with worries and complaints. Money will be spent on in-house visits and back-office validation to correct mistakes and assist customers.

3. Satisfied customers 

With the increase in energy prices, now is the time when consumers value an accurate and quick billing process. Billing accuracy, first-time-right meter readings, and quick assistance are all ways to make a customer’s experience easier and better.

Now, companies can personally read consumption data automatically without disturbing consumers. Remote reading provides an easy and secure way to access meter readings whenever, in addition to increasing the quality of data. 

But what if remote reading is still out of reach?

Currently, there are still about 25.6 million non-smart meters - legacy meters or first generation smart meters in dumb mode - around the UK that rely on visual or customer meter readings. For all of these meters, remote readings are simply not viable in the near future. What can these companies do to increase the meter data quality and quantity?

In the case of Brabant Water, they found a solution that improves their meter reading operations tremendously. As a company that values faultless metering administration, Brabant Water found that errors in meter readings happened way too much.

This is when they started using Blicker for their meter readings, and found that their data was a lot more accurate as errors were reduced in meter readings. Also, customer support was more efficient and, as a result, customer satisfaction increased. No need to be in the dark, there is total control and visibility of data.

This is what it’s like with Blicker: if readings are accurate, there’s no need for validation. With the ability to extract data from traditional meters (both analog and digital) through taking a photo, Blicker is an excellent way of ensuring access to quality data. 

Consumers don’t need to stay home and wait for meter readers to collect data if they can do it themselves with a photo! And if a problem arises, customers know assistance is only seconds away.

As for field force workers doing house (re)visits, taking a photo is all they have to do. This solution is clearly making a change, seeing as Brabant Water increased its customer satisfaction score from 8.6 to 9.0. 

Why Blicker?

Blicker is what the AMR software is to smart meters: a modern-day, AI-powered solution that allows the extraction of non-smart meter data (meter readings, barcodes, and serial numbers). It’s no secret that this modern-day solution sheds light on the industry’s needs: lower costs, better data, and a smooth consumer experience. Blicker includes many of the features that automatic meter reading has. What makes it special is the fact that it benefits households that still use traditional meters. The reading just happens through a photo click! 

With 25.6 million non-smart meters still around in the UK, Blicker empowers utility companies to extract and manage their data in a timely manner. Now more than ever, obtaining accurate and frequent consumption data is of utmost importance.

Are you curious to see how Blicker works? Try the Blicker demo!

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