Meter Readers a Vanishing Breed at Illinois Power
Technology and economics are forcing utilities to change the way they read residential meters. Over the next three years, Illinois Power (IP) will replace all of its meters, as well as its meter readers. The change will be the result of a recent agreement between Schlumberger Industries Inc. and IP, in which, Schlumberger will build and deliver an advanced customer communications network. The network, to be installed over a 15,000 square-mile area, will serve approximately 1.1 million meter points in IP`s service territory. From the information available, it is believed to be the largest customer communications system deployed to date by any utility in the world.
Schlumberger has overall responsibility of selecting and integrating state-of-the-art communications technology, while also managing deployment of the system throughout the IP service area. Schlumberger is then going to operate and maintain the communications network and host system for IP under a long-term (15-year) contract.
The Schlumberger MAPS-based AMR system will be used for residential, commercial and industrial electric and natural gas customers in Illinois. Schlumberger will integrate the Whisper Communications Inc. remote meter interface devices within the gas and electric meters deployed throughout the system.
The new meters will send up-to-the-minute meter information through radio signals and telephone links to a central billing office. The plan is to centralize billing, in preparation for a time when customers can choose power suppliers.
Paul Lang, IP`s senior vice president, said, “This system will allow us to substantially improve service to our customers and at the same time provide an infrastructure that will facilitate the transition to a competitive environment. This system will allow us to respond quickly to the changing needs as competition is introduced into the energy and energy-related services marketplace.”
Even though the meter readers are being replaced by automation, they will be given jobs elsewhere in the company. The meter readers and the company will no longer have to worry about vicious attack dogs, embarrassing confrontations in resident`s yards or dangerous illegal activity.
Customers will probably miss the personal contact, but the new system will be more efficient. According to IP spokesman Shirley Swarthout, the new system will help the utility manage a more complex and competitive electric business when customers begin switching power companies after 2000. Schlumberger is expecting to complete the network deployment over a two-year period.