What is advanced metering infrastructure (AMI)?
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What is AMI?

Advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) is an integrated, fixed-network system that enables two-way communication between utilities and customers. The system collects, stores, analyzes and presents energy usage data, providing utility companies the ability to monitor electricity, gas and water usage in real time.

Given our growing need for efficient, cost-effective, environmentally sustainable energy—and the increase of smart technology—it’s no surprise that AMI has become a key technology in a broader evolution.

AMI can help utility companies collect a range of data, including indicators of tampering, data collected at set intervals, details regarding power outages and the quality of electricity supplied. It also offers specific advanced capabilities for endpoints used in electric metering.

Water utilities, for example, rely on AMI meters to provide comprehensive flow data. If the data points to excessive water use patterns, which might indicate a leak, the company can notify the customer or make the necessary repairs.

Unlike traditional automatic meter reading, AMI’s two-way communication model enables more comprehensive data collection and helps companies remotely manage meter functionality. Here, we discuss how AMI systems work and how companies can use them for more efficient and sustainable utility operations.

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Components of AMI

Advanced metering infrastructure comprises several interconnected components.

At the heart of AMI systems are smart meters—the digital gas meters, electric meters and water meters that record energy consumption, typically in intervals of an hour or less. These devices typically send data back to the utility company at least once daily. 

Communication networks serve as the backbone of the two-way communication between smart meters and the AMI head-end system. They can be either wireless or wired, depending on the specific topology of the system. These AMI networks carry data from the smart meters to the head-end system and vice versa, allowing utility companies to send commands to meters (for example, remote disconnect or reconnect and firmware updates).

Communication networks can transmit usage information to water, gas and electric utilities by using radio frequency signals, cellular networks or broadband connections, or by using power line communication (wherein AMI meters transmit data over power lines).

The ability to remotely manage meters not only eliminates the need for manual meter readings, but it also enables faster response times in the event of a power outage. 

The data management system is the central repository where all meter data is collected, stored, processed and analyzed. Here, raw data from smart meters is converted into actionable insights. Utility companies can use these insights to improve operations, while customers can access detailed information about their energy usage, helping them manage their consumption more effectively.

Understanding the AMI workflow

The workflow of an AMI system consists of the following key stages:

Stage 1: Data collection and transmission

The AMI workflow begins with smart meters. Installed at customers' premises, smart metering systems provide automated meter readings and send consumption data back to the utility company at regular intervals.

Stage 2: Data reception and management

The AMI head-end system serves as a hub for incoming data from all installed smart meters. The head-end system verifies the data, performs preliminary processing and then forwards it to the meter data management system (MDMS).

Stage 3: Data processing and analysis

The MDMS is where the data comes to life. It converts the raw data into meaningful information that utility companies can use to make informed decisions regarding load forecasting, demand response, distribution automation and more. Power companies, for instance, can use AMI meter data to manage transformer load during and after a blackout.

Stage 4: Customer interface

Data processing and analysis benefit not only the utility companies but also their customers. When the utility has all the necessary data insights, it relays those insights to the customer, who can then access detailed energy usage information on demand through customer portals and in-home displays. This transparency can sway customer decision-making, encouraging energy-saving behaviors and enabling customers to manage their energy costs more effectively.

Stage 5: Outage notification and management

In the event of an impending outage, AMI systems come equipped with outage management features that can send affected smart meters a "last gasp" signal before power goes out. This feature helps utility companies to quickly identify and resolve issues, when necessary. 

Use cases for AMI systems

AMI is a transformative technology that's redefining the landscape of the utilities industry. As of 2021, electric companies, for instance, had installed more than 110 million AMI systems (nearly 70% of all electric meter installations).1 But how exactly is this technology being used? Some examples include:

Demand response programs

AMI enhances the implementation of demand response programs, which encourage consumers to reduce their energy usage during peak demand periods, helping to balance load and prevent outages. With AMI, utilities can monitor energy usage in real time and send signals to customers to reduce their consumption when demand is too high.

Outage detection and management

In the event of a power outage, AMI systems can automatically detect and report the outage to the utility, reducing the duration of outages and improving service reliability. AMI can also help utilities pinpoint the location of the outage, enabling quicker repairs.

Remote connect or disconnect

AMI provides utilities the ability to remotely connect or disconnect, which can be useful when customers move out or fail to pay their bills. This feature not only eliminates the need for a physical visit to the premises, but also facilitates faster service reconnections and disconnections.

Theft detection

Energy theft is a significant issue for many utilities. With AMI, utilities can monitor energy usage patterns and detect irregularities that might suggest theft. For example, if a meter is recording low or no consumption over an extended period despite the premises being occupied, it might indicate that energy is being stolen.

Enhanced customer service

AMI systems can help customers manage their energy consumption more effectively. However, utilities can also use AMI data to provide customers personalized energy-saving tips and recommendations, further enhancing customer service.

Enabling distributed generation

As more consumers install new meters and energy resources that are distributed and renewable, such as solar panels, AMI can help utilities manage resources effectively. AMI can provide real-time data on energy production from newer energy resources like solar power, allowing companies to better integrate them into the power grid.

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1 How many smart meters are installed in the United States, and who has them?, US Energy Information Administration, 08 November 2022