Making Meter Exchanges a Snap

Meters

Meter exchange programs are going on all over the country, with great success for both the utility companies and consumers. The ability to have almost real-time energy use information is a boon to a utility, especially because it allows them to forego the billing estimates that required them to manually enter observations from meter readers into the billing system.

In the past, as meter readers went from house to house, writing down the numbers they saw on the meters, it left utility companies open to errors, ultimately impacting their bottom lines. Newer meters allow readers to drive past homes and businesses, pointing a meter-reading device at the building and capturing the numbers remotely. More recently, even those remote-read meters have improved. Now meters can automatically connect to the utility’s home office and send the use numbers back wirelessly up to four times a day. It’s another step toward efficiency and accuracy and lets utility companies rely on a much more accurate system to read and report numbers back to their customers. 

Given the U.S. Government’s Smart Grid initiative, replacing older, analog electric meters with newer, digital models is becoming even more urgent. In addition to their ability to reduce overhead costs for utilities, the digital meters also provide more immediate information to utilities. This means they can more easily pinpoint outages as they happen - down to the street and block - reducing the time it takes crews to get to the scene of outages and helping them get power restored more quickly and efficiently.

Switching out meters should be relatively easy, but for most utilities, whether in rural areas or more densely populated urban regions, the challenge comes with having enough feet on the street. It takes a large labor force to change out thousands of electric meters and most utilities do not have the personnel available to do it efficiently and quickly.

Flexibility is also a big challenge utilities face when moving from traditional, older electric meters to the new digital meters. When a meter exchange program is put in place, it includes a set number of meters to be replaced within a scheduled period of time. Unfortunately, the project scope rarely stays the same as the program proceeds. Most of the time, meter exchange programs end up being larger or smaller than originally planned. Utilities don’t typically have a large enough workforce to perform the meter exchanges as originally set up. When the scope of the project changes, then the utility doesn’t have a means of growing or downsizing their installation teams quickly.

So how can utility companies meet the demand for new, advanced digital meters, as cost-effectively and as efficiently as possible?

Enter Anixter's meter services. The Meter Exchange Team was born out of the original Meter Lab, one of the few places in the country where utilities could send malfunctioning meters for testing and repair. The team consists of highly-trained meter experts, each with years of experience installing replacement electric meters.

Because the power coming into a residential structure is very different from that going into commercial and industrial facilities, the key to success in meter replacement is training technicians to handle specific types of meters. For example, meter replacement teams at Anixter are made up of two different crews, each dealing with a different type of meter: residential or commercial/industrial. Because residential meters can differ dramatically from commercial/industrial meters in the way they are installed, having specially-trained technicians ensures the newer meters are ready to be put into service the minute the power is restored.

The Meter Exchange Team has a tremendous depth of experience, with some team members having more than 30 years experience in the industry. Nevertheless, newer residential exchange technicians are required to take classroom training and in the field training, working alongside more experienced technicians before they are allowed to work on their own. Commercial/industrial exchange technicians are the elite of the technicians. Not only do they have to be experienced residential technicians who have worked at least two years in the residential area after their residential training, but they also have to go through the training process again, attending specialized classroom training and then additional field supervision before they can work on the commercial meter exchanges.

The ability of the Meter Exchange Team brings a number of advantages to a utility, including expertise and th eability to shift focus and size at a moment’s notice. But, one of the biggest innovations is the Anixter-developed tracking technology, which can eliminate a tremendous amount of labor on the utility’s side. Each Meter Exchange Team member carries a handheld tool that connects back to a database. The team member reads the old meter, takes a picture, installs the new meter, and takes a picture of the final install. The entire transaction is then sent back to the utility for uploading into their database, without the need for manual entry into the database.

What happens when the meter exchange is completed in a particular area? The team moves on to the next project, leaving the utility with a well-placed infrastructure, able to meet the needs of the future.