In September 2018, gas utilities were stunned by the Merrimack Valley gas explosions, which caused millions, if not billions, of dollars in property damage, personal injury, and infrastructure damage. The investigation found that the event was caused by excessive pressure in the pipeline, and now legislatures are scrambling to place regulations around pipeline integrity and over-pressure protection in order to protect citizens from another incident like Merrimack Valley.
With the spread of COVID-19, utilities are now facing stricter safety regulations regarding social distancing, impacting house visits for maintenance, manual meter reads and initiating or stopping service. At the same time, they are experiencing lower revenues and profits stemming from reduced C&I consumption and providing continued service to customers regardless of payment status.
With all of these challenges, it’s understandable that gas utilities are concerned about the amount of investment needed to meet the regulations. However, with the data collection, remote shut-off and operational cost savings that AMI enables, this should be a time for gas utilities to double down on AMI rather than delaying it.
Remote Monitoring and Meter Reads
There’s no question that AMI will play an important role in helping gas utilities comply with increasing personal safety regulations stemming from COVID-19. The ability to read meters remotely and with greater accuracy means that field techs no longer need to venture into communities to gather usage information. AMI meters also contain advanced alarms and diagnostics, allowing utilities to resolve customer issues faster, often without field techs entering the customer’s property. In both instances, utilities are improving personal safety while reducing truck rolls and other operating expenses.
But, the days where AMI strictly means advanced infrastructure for metering applications are long gone. Today, AMI offers so much more than just getting reads from a meter – it enables utilities to move beyond consumption and billing to a complete smart utility network. It enables utilities to gather data throughout their pipeline network and control critical assets, helping utilities prepare for future pipeline integrity and over-pressure protection regulations.
Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet when it comes to solving over-pressure protection and pipeline integrity. Luckily, AMI allows utilities to deploy a network of solutions to tackle such a complex problem. Utilities are utilizing AMI networks to monitor pressure at critical assets in locations, such as district regulator stations. These devices send pressure data over the AMI network every 15 minutes, and send over-pressure alarms whenever a threshold has been exceeded. Once the pressure data is captured, it can be stored in a database and put into a standard report that can be used for Maximum Allowable Operating Pressure (MAOP) audits and regulatory documentation.
In addition to monitoring, AMI can be used for controlling gas flow. At the individual customer level, utilities can stop service without dispatching a field tech, delivering improved safety for both staff and customers in addition to better customer service and profitability.
But, if a utility receives a high pressure alarm from its district regulator station, it can also use remote shut-off to stop the flow of gas to all homes affected by that high pressure event, or at the district regulator station using the AMI network.
Another solution that fits nicely into the AMI network is cathodic protection. Utilities are utilizing AMI networks to remotely collect voltage readings from cathodic protection end points. The devices can also send alarms when voltage has exceeded a threshold, notifying utilities when they are out of compliance. With these readings and alarms, utilities can take a more proactive role in replacing aging infrastructure, thus preventing pipeline ruptures.
The last part of the AMI network of solutions is data science, especially for pipeline integrity and over-pressure protection! With AMI devices reporting back consumption, pressure, cathodic protection, methane, temperature, and many other data sets, data science can be used to provide crucial insight for risk assessments and predictive maintenance. The power of AMI data with regards to pipeline integrity and over-pressure protection becomes even stronger when it is combined with geo-spatial data from satellites and NOAA databases.
So, if you are considering an AMI deployment, don’t jump ship as legislatures continue to fine-tune pressure and safety regulations. Instead, take a look at the bigger picture of AMI and understand the many benefits that it can provide for managing your entire gas network from the pipeline to the home. At Sensus, we offer a wide range of AMI solutions that can help protect your employees and customers!