Automatic meter reading (AMR) is an automated process that is utilized by many utility companies. With this type of technology, information on customer usage is automatically captured in a real time process, allowing the provider to constantly be aware of the current rate of consumption related to each customer’s account. This is in contrast to older methods that required the use of meter readers to manually collect data in order to manage tasks such as invoicing customers for the most recently completed billing period.
Technology is the driving factor with any automatic meter reading process. Essentially, meters used by water, gas, or power companies are configured to allow current usage data to be accessed by provider and recorded in a central database. The detail in the database can be used for a number of functions, including monitoring certain accounts for unusual levels of activity, managing the billing process during each billing period, and even utilizing the collected data for different types of analysis. It is not unusual for utility companies to structure the download of data to occur at specific times during any given billing period, making it possible to determine current usage levels at just about any given point in time. Many automated meter reading systems also allow authorized personnel to initiate a manual download of current detail, such as when a customer wishes to close an account and needs a closing balance sooner rather than later.
There are some different approaches in how an automatic meter reading takes place. With many systems, the configuration of the meters themselves are crucial to the process. The meters must be equipped with sensors, programmed to capture and record data and the ability to recognize a request initiated from the central office to transfer the usage data. Many systems use encrypting methods that help to keep the information safe during transmission, a factor that helps to protect the privacy of the customer as well as ensure the receipt of accurate data. Once received the data is unpacked from the encryption and converted into a format that is easily recognizable by the central database.
One of the chief benefits of an efficient automatic meter reading system is the ability to obtain accurate data at any time. This is in contrast to manual methods that rely on collection of data by meter readers, who may or may not record the actual usage accurately. In addition to providing specific data about usage, an automatic meter reading does not require a site visit to each customer. Typically, the data can be accessed from the central office and transferred into the central database in a matter of seconds. For consumers, this means faster response times when there is a need to close an account or obtain information that is based on the current amount of usage.