I have now assumed the Chair for the International Utilities Revenue Protection Association (IURPA) which has a long history in maximising the revenues of member companies. IURPA is a powerful tool for revenue protection (RP) professionals to network, problem solve, promote, and define new processes to keep up with the advancements in metering technology. I strongly suggest that companies that are not members of IURPA consider joining us.
There is little to lose, and a lot to gain. Our members have worked side by side with a variety of companies to assist them in their product development. Not long ago, a major locking device provider for meter enclosures developed a new product, and wanted input. We placed the product in the field at one of our problem properties. We provided some additional information based on our field tests, which has been incorporated in the standard design.
I believe that utilities and vendors work hand in hand to design the right products, the first time. While some new ideas and/or equipment look good on paper, it’s the field test that counts. I work for a large Midwestern utility that is implementing automated meter reading. I’m sure you are aware of the benefits of AMR, but I have a significant concern (as do most RP people with AMR systems) about customers who have collection problems.
PEOPLE STEEL METERS
So when they steal someone else’s meter and install it at their home, they have power. We in RP know the meter is stolen; our problem is to find out where the theft is occurring. In this situation, AMR is simply a theftometer. We know exactly how much they’re stealing from us – we just can’t find it. This is a huge problem for me. I want to find them. I want to prosecute if possible, or at the very least shut them off, charge them fees, and have them pay.
For the past year I have been working on a strategy using the vendor’s data, our company’s data, and a little old-fashioned police work to find these theftometers. Why? Last year, between April and November, just over 100 meters were stolen at my utility. And finding them can be like looking for a needle in a haystack. We installed AMR in our highest population density areas, and the area that meters are broadcasting from is approximately 1.5 miles. Can you imagine how many homes are involved?
I’ve spoken to many utilities that have the same issue. One has 500+ meters out there that are unbilled because they can’t find them. Another has 400+. One utility has quantified the loss – it is losing almost a quarter of a million dollars a year to the theftometers. Neither utility has successfully developed a strategy to consistently locate these errant meters.
How can we combat these registered losses? Software applications and hardware need to be developed to assist RP departments to locate these missing meters. When considering or preparing to install an AMR system, involve the utility’s RP department in the design, planning, and implementation stages. They will add significant value to the project.
How can IURPA help? Here’s a case in point. I participated in a meeting where the use of flame-retardant clothing came up. Someone inquired what other utilities were doing, and I offered to find out. Within IURPA, we can send out an inquiry to our members worldwide. By the next morning, I had received 56 e-mails responding to my request. If I had contacted each individual utility, found the right person, played telephone tag etc., I’m sure it would have taken a week of my time and been a great expense to my company. This way we received the right answers from the right people the first time.
Please allow me to take this opportunity to thank Smart Energy International for providing a forum for RP professionals to share the challenges we face in the field with metering suppliers, so that new and better products are created.