Multi-service utilities – those that sell power, water, gas, or any combination of the three – have many opportunities to reduce costs and pass on rate savings to customers. If they can pick one AMI system that fits all commodities they sell, they can benefit from economies of scale as well as simplicity of deployment.
That’s what Dothan Utilities in the City of Dothan, Ala., decided to do when it deployed a single advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) solution for its electric and water utility customers. Its AMI choice was a big money saver for the utility.
Dothan Utilities benefitted from AMI in 5 ways:
1: Affordable coverage for a complex service territory
Dothan has 35,000 water meters in pits and only 31,000 electric meters wired to residences. That meant the utility needed to have a system that could reach and serve outlying meters associated with those water-only accounts.
After considering two alternatives – one that employed several large towers and another that used smaller data collectors distributed across its service territory, it chose the latter. Data collectors could be strategically deployed over a large service territory, mounting onto existing poles and structures, making them easier and more affordable to install than tower-based units.
2: Enhanced customer care
Power and water are essential services, and this is especially true now, in the age of Covid-19. Dothan wanted a system that would support a pre-paid offering so that customers who were behind on bill payments could avoid the inconvenience and fees of service disconnections and shift to a pre-pay account instead.
“The financial benefits from the prepay program for our budget-conscious customers as well as Dothan Utilities has been tremendous. To achieve this, getting 15-minute data from electric meters and hourly data from water meters read by Aclara’s AMI system was instrumental,” said Chris Phillips, electric operations superintendent for the City of Dothan
The solution not only helps customers who are struggling financially. The system also allows the utility to offer detailed consumption data for customers who simply want to keep closer tabs on their power and water usage.
3: Faster, more efficient outage restoration
Nearly 95% of Dothan’s citizens were left without power in 2018, when Hurricane Michael moved through this Alabama community. The area also gets hit with tornadoes, which means outages are a common problem.
“Now that we’ve tied the Aclara system [through the interface available in AclaraONE®] into our outage management system, we see outage information automatically,” said Phillips. “This allows our crews to more quickly pinpoint where repairs must be made on the distribution system.”
So are nested outages, the few households connected to a failed transformer that remain in the dark long after other premises impacted by a wide-reaching outage have had power restored. AMI tells utility managers when all the customers in an outage-affected area have had their power restored, which allows utility staff to avoid returning to the site of a nested outage and get everyone back online more quickly.
4: Cost savings on wholesale power cost savings
Dothan Utilities pays an actual demand rate to its generation and transmission service provider, Alabama Municipal Electric Authority, and the utility wanted the insight from voltage readings that AMI meters can deliver on all customer premises so that it can expand its use of voltage reduction measures.
“All of our voltage regulation is in the substations,” said Phillips. “Without visibility into voltage on the system, Dothan Utilities can’t expand this energy and cost-saving measure to help keep rates low for customers.”
Sometimes called volt/VAR optimization (VVO), the activity of managing voltage on distribution lines requires visibility into the voltage up and down the line. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says, this type of optimization typically results in savings on both the customer side of the meter as well as on the distribution system, with savings typically concentrated on the customer side of the meter. Estimates of savings attributable to the customer side of the meter may exceed 90 percent.”
Dothan managers estimate this effort is saving the city some $20,000 per line. On top of those savings, the reduced demand charges provide another $2 million annually in lower wholesale power costs, which the city can pass along to customers via reduced rates.
5: Impacts on operational costs
In addition, the Dothan team also calculates that they will save more than $2.8 million annually through AMI’s impacts on operational costs.
Would you like to learn more? Read about the Dothan AMI implementation and see all the benefits AMI delivered to this utility.