FEATURE // AERIAL METER READING was to resequence meter-reading cycles. The status quo, reading meters based on local capacity, was replaced with read cycles based on geographic zones. While this was the most effective solution, it was by no means the easiest. With multiple billing regulations policing the process, the “how” of mass resequencing became a monumental undertaking. Fortunately, AUI was able to navigate the mineﬁeld and restructure the read cycles for optimal aerial collection. Transformational change at a gas utility is never easy, especially when “we’ve always done it this way” is the common position. AUI could have accepted drive-by AMR using the status quo 21 cycles, so moving to aer ial data collec tion was a sea change. AUI made the decision early on to contract a project management professional to take the reins. It was critical that the diverse stakeholder groups within AUI work together, despite conﬂicting priorities. An external project manager provided the necessary expertise and neutrality to ensure that everyone worked toward a common goal and remained on target. As with any small utility, these kinds of projec ts can become an added responsibility for staff, who still have their regular jobs to do. This was further complicated with an aggressive timeline — from project scoping in late-March to the start of ﬁeld implementation in July. The team had to: Western Energy / Winter 2017/2018 / westernenergy.org/we Data collector showing groups of end points, which disappear from the screen once the read has been received. (Stratocom Solutions) the project implementation phase to ensure quality control. The results November 2015 saw the ﬁrst attempt to collect data by air. The reads came in as adver tised with a collec tion r ate greater than 99 percent, which produced a collective sigh of relief. Every new geogr aphic zone followed according to plan with a successful project completion on March 2016. AUI went into this initiative with some very clear goals, and achieved all of them: Reduce meter reading costs; Eliminate injuries due to meter reading – an unintended beneﬁt was a drop in worker’s compensation premiums; Reduce missed reads – read capture increased from 93 to 99.5 percent; Reduce estimates and cancels/rebills; Reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions – substituting 38 vehicles with one aircraft reduced GHG emissions due to meter reading by 80 percent (over 400 tonnes CO2 equivalent); and Avoid project cost overruns – the project was delivered on time and under budget. Our customers were cooperative during the transition, and appreciate that we no longer enter their properties monthly. Read errors are minimal and there has been a reduction in billing inquiries. Lessons learned: Not everything goes according to plan. Plans change and organizations need to be nimble enough to adapt quickly. Any signiﬁcant project needs dedicated project management. Project managers set the tone, pace and keep everyone honest. This is not a job someone can do as a side job. Communication, communication, communication. This is the key to any successful project. Celebrate the little wins, the big wins, and include everyone. Aerial meter reading may not be for every utility, but for AUI and our widely disbursed territories, reading meters by air ticked all the boxes. It is clearly the best ﬁt for us. Develop software parameters; Design an implementation plan concurrently with resequencing the meter read schedule; Develop a communication plan for customers in accordance with the regulatory rules; and Develop a contingency plan in the event that aerial reading didn’t work as planned. Field implementation started in July 2015, with contractors deployed to the new geographic data collection zones. Meter-reading contractors continued to manually read these areas throughout RUSSELL WINTERSGILL, C.E.T. MBA , has over 30 24 years’ experience in the natural gas industry in both gas operations and construction in Western Canada. He is currently the vice president of operations and engineering at AltaGas Utilities, Inc.