Landis+Gyr has announced the general availability of its next-generation prepayment metering solution, Landis+Gyr Prepay. The solution leverages advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) and edge computing capabilities to offer utilities a more flexible and customer-centric approach to prepayment.
Landis+Gyr is implementing the solution at Salt River Project, whose long-running M-Power prepay program is the largest in the United States. The project will see approximately 150,000 prepay customers migrated to the new smart metering solution.
Advantages over legacy prepay systems
Unlike legacy systems that required dedicated prepayment meters, Landis+Gyr Prepay uses standard smart meters equipped with service disconnect capability – initially the vendor’s FOCUS AX-SD meter and in future the FOCUS AXe-SD line. This enables utilities to switch customers between credit mode and prepayment without doing expensive truck rolls.
“One of the big criticisms of an end-point based solution has been the need to change out the meter to switch between prepay and credit mode. What we’re doing is eliminating that,” said Jonathan Leifheit, Senior Product Manager, Consumer Engagement and Analytics at Landis+Gyr.
Another benefit is the use of AMI to facilitate transactions to and from the meter. Payments can be pushed over the AMI network to update the customer’s balance on the meter automatically. This does away with the traditional need for customers to interact manually with their meter to upload credit, for example by swiping a smart card or keying in a voucher code.
Using AMI also opens up new ways to present balance and consumption data to the customer, such as via a customer engagement portal or a mobile app. Landis+Gyr is adding these types of applications as part of its development of a broader customer engagement platform, which leverages the capabilities of partners such as Accelerated Innovation and Simple Energy as well as the vendor’s own functionalities. The web portal is already available and allows customers to analyse their consumption data, make payments and see their transaction history, and in the case of prepay view their balance. A mobile app is also in development, Leifheit added.
Edge intelligence providing real-time capabilities
Using standard smart meters and AMI to provide a modern prepayment solution is not in itself new. There is already a wide range of back-office software systems that allow utilities to manage a prepaid service over their AMI and improve the customer’s experience with multi-channel payments and account management. These solutions are available from specialist vendors such as Exceleron, PayGo and SmartGridCIS, and similar functionality is increasingly being offered within many popular utility billing and customer information systems.
Landis+Gyr Prepay offers an alternative approach and systems architecture. One fundamental difference is that the solution leverages firmware on the meter to perform the core task of calculating the user’s balance. Whereas centralised prepaid software solutions typically do balance calculations using daily meter reads, with Landis+Gyr’s Prepay the balance is calculated locally at the meter based on the customer’s real-time consumption. This means the user always has a up-to-date, real-time view of their balance, just as they did with legacy prepayment meters. The balance information can optionally be relayed from the meter to an in-home display via ZigBee wireless technology.
Other key functions, such as switching the meter between credit and prepay modes, uploading credit to the meter, and providing online customer account management, are managed within Landis+Gyr’s head-end system (Command Center 7.1) for its Gridstream AMI solution.
According to Leifheit, Landis+Gyr’s new prepaid offering is competitive on price with the alternative prepaid software systems and, as the solution is inherent within the vendor’s AMI head-end system, could have some integration advantages. But he identifies the solution’s real-time reporting capabilities as the key differentiator from a centralized systems approach, including their potential to support home energy management scenarios in the future.
One capability the vendor is working on is integrating the prepayment concept with connected devices within the home, such as smart thermostats and heating and cooling systems. Equipped with real-time balance information, a prepay customer is able to take steps to reduce their consumption to make their credit last longer, such as adjusting thermostat settings or turning off a water heater. Within the connected home, this process could be automated in real time based on the customer’s preferences, so that certain actions are triggered when the user’s prepaid balance reaches a chosen threshold.
“Those types of scenarios require real-time infrastructure in order to make decisions on the fly,” said Leifheit. “With intelligence now at the edge, prepay becomes another tool to help (1) the utility and (2) the consumer manage and reduce their consumption as part of a broader energy and capacity optimisation program.” According to Leifheit, real-time energy optimisation scenarios linked with prepay could become a reality within the next three years and are one of the current drivers of interest among utilities in the vendor’s new solution.
Landis+Gyr Prepay is available in North America, as well as in other locations where the vendor offers its Gridstream AMI solution, including South America and parts of the Asia-Pacific.
Read more on the growth of smart meter prepaid electric service in the United States in our latest report.