There is something to be said for traditions – the natural gas industry is rife with them. As we approach nearly two centuries of commercialized natural gas use, it stands to reason that certain rules (both de facto and de jure) would apply.
Safety is paramount, so the gas industry is necessarily cautious. Don’t expect gas utilities to be first in line as technological disruptors. But being a slower, deliberate adopter of technology is not the same as being stagnate. From dispatching field teams for every aspect of system monitoring, to manual meter reading, to mechanical meter design – the industry has become comfortable with an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” approach.
It raises a valid question: Are gas utilities poised to be on the wrong side of technological history?
Possibly. But the largest U.S. gas utilities are answering the call of digitalization. They are proactively using smart technology to streamline operations, reduce costs and improve safety. Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) is just one example of technology that transforms the way utilities do business.
So sure, the cool kids in gas are doing it, but most will tell you that migrating from manual or AMR meter reading systems is not easy. Some are still planning their migrations, others are implementing. Building a business case is an essential first step, but shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Start with the facts. Understand the current drivers of smart technology adoption within gas. But the most forward-looking gas utilities have weighed the risks and moved into action. They have discovered the power and potential of what can be accomplished with data.
The clear-cut benefits of migrating to AMI systems have focused on how gathering data remotely results in revenue management efficiencies. Benefits include:
- More timely and accurate metering
- Reduced billing adjustments
- Improved cash flow and collections
- Shortened third-party supplier settlement timeframe
- Advanced rate structure support
- Reduced off-cycle truck rolls with soft move-in/move out capabilities
- Automated turn-on/off
But current data capture capabilities of AMI systems extend well beyond meter reading.
Data and communications have created a new smart gas infrastructure that leverages communications platforms, smart meters, new sensor technology and analytics software to monitor the health and status of a local distribution network.
Insights gained from these tools help address many operational challenges, such as:
- Monitoring corrosion protection on pipeline
- Tracking the highs and lows of system pressure
- Protecting and managing service connections
- Enhancing public safety
- Aiding economic development
- Supporting societal and sustainability improvements (less fuel usage, reduced emissions)
For more, read the white paper, “Is AMI Overkill for Gas Utilities?” for detailed industry trends, assumptions and tips on how to build each section of a business case for a Smart Gas solution.