Electric meter tampering is one of those topics that no one talks about much, yet it is a fact of life experienced by all utilities. It existed with the older electromechanical meters, and it exists today with smart meters.
The challenge is that it’s extremely difficult, if not impossible, to stop all tampering. However, with AMI systems utilities are able to locate many instances of energy theft and address problems quickly—substantially reducing the impact to the bottom line.
Tampering is usually associated with a utility customer that wants to reduce their electric bill. Residential and commercial customers have tried many methods over the years, often creating conditions that are dangerous for themselves, their neighbors and utility.
In the past, older electromechanical meters were very limited in their ability to monitor for tampering. Often, to find a tampering instance, the utility relied on meter readers to notice an issue during the monthly onsite reading. Occasionally the tampering would be obvious, but often the energy thieves would be creative in their attempts to get around the system and steal power.
Today, after a utility upgrades to an Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) system, there is no longer a need for on premise meter reading. Which means the monthly visual inspection no longer happens. Fortunately, AMI systems, smart meters, and its data can help utilities find tampering instances remotely.
Technology has become the new eyes and ears for spotting tampering.
Detecting Energy Theft
Thieves often try removing a meter from the socket or even taking a meter from another location and replacing their original meter to reduce their electric bill. In either case some AMI systems have been designed to alert the utility of these conditions. In fact, these systems detect and report the number of times a meter has even been turned off/on with date and time stamps and can even locate the meter if it has been moved from its registered address.
Smart meters are now able to measure and report real-time information that was previously unavailable to the utility. These include detecting and reporting meter anomalies such as reverse current flow and flagging meters that aren’t registering energy consumption. Additionally, the meters can provide voltage and current readings and even phase rotation for polyphase installations to help identify issues. Thru frequent communications over the AMI network, utilities get a complete picture of issues that need further investigation.
Some AMI systems also offer the ability to continuously monitor for electric usage for disconnected meters with their service switches open. It can even detect and report the presence of a power line bypass to the meter socket, the presence of magnetic fields, and a bad neutral connection at the residence for form 2S meters.
The data meters measure and transmit is very useful for spotting tampering. With 15-minute reads standard, a utility is able to analyze an account’s billing reads over time. Discrepancies can be flagged and investigated.
Additionally, utilities can aggregate energy usage over time on a distribution system asset, like a distribution transformer or lateral fuse, to monitor usage and identify abnormalities.
Achievable Results when using AMI to Identify Tampering
An AMI system gives utilities the visibility and reporting capability needed to identify energy theft quickly. The technology is available today to ensure a fairer and more equitable distribution of costs for a utility’s customers and helps the utility eliminate the unsafe conditions often created by energy thieves.
Everyone should pay their fair share. Using an AMI system to detect energy theft is a no-brainer.