Proving the Business Case for the Internet of Things

Nicor Gas deploys Sensus smart metering to 2.2m customers

Steve Rogerson
July 28, 2020

Illinois utility Nicor Gas hopes to complete the deployment of an advanced metering infrastructure from North Carolina-based Sensus to all 2.2 million customers this year.
Nicor Gas is modernising its system to cultivate advanced data capabilities with a smart utility network that will streamline operations.
The company’s history dates back to the 1850s since planting roots in the farmlands of northern Illinois. Today, the utility has grown into the largest natural gas distribution company in the state.
“We’re committed to delivering clean, safe, reliable and affordable natural gas for our customers, our neighbours and our communities,” said Sandy Garcia, director of special projects at Nicor Gas. “Investing in new programmes and technologies across the Nicor Gas system is a key step towards building a state-of-the-art natural gas delivery system for northern Illinois.”
The meter modernisation programme began in 2018, and deployment of the advanced metering infrastructure from Sensus to all 2.2 million customers is expected to be complete this year.
As part of a three-year deployment, Nicor Gas began installing the two-way Sensus FlexNet communication network across its service area to lay the groundwork for advanced metering infrastructure. The deployment includes FlexNet communication modules that communicate data to and from current residential and commercial natural gas meters.
Nicor Gas continued its fast-paced module deployment with FlexNet EasyLink mobile communications, which allow technicians to automate data collection by obtaining meter readings using a portable, long-range radio device.
As the company reached a one-million-installation milestone last year, the natural gas utility began to make fundamental changes to billing processes.
“We transitioned from billing customers with estimated reads to actual reads from real-time data,” said Gretchen Ohl, manager of advanced metering infrastructure deployment for Nicor Gas. “It was like going from the Stone Age to the Modern Age.”
As the utility nears a full deployment of the communication modules later this year, the Nicor Gas team sees the power of enhanced data collection extending beyond billing.
“The automation will enhance our customer experience by helping to eliminate estimated meter reads and providing more timely and accurate data about their energy usage,” Garcia said. “The resulting analytics gives customers more control, enabling better informed energy- and cost-savings decisions.”
The system has also helped the utility grow in its own efforts to become more energy efficient and sustainable.
“We are committed to pursuing an environmentally sustainable future for our customers and communities,” Ohl said. “The ability to read meters remotely helps us simplify the process for customers moving to new properties and it also reduces our carbon footprint with far less service vehicles on the road.”
The system was deployed without interruption of day-to-day natural gas service for most customers with outdoor-accessible meters.
The picture shows Lori Reese, a Nicor Gas meter reader, activating a FlexNet communications module.