Illinois’s largest natural gas distribution company deploys smart utility network to streamline operations
Nicor Gas’s history dates back to the 1850s since planting roots in the abundant farmlands of northern Illinois. Today, the utility has grown into the largest natural gas distribution company in the state.
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Lori Reese, Nicor Gas meter reader, activates a Sensus FlexNet communication module that will communicate data to and from current residential and commercial natural gas customers. (Photo: Business Wire)
"We’re committed to delivering clean, safe, reliable and affordable natural gas for our customers, our neighbors and our communities," said Sandy Garcia, director of special projects at Nicor Gas. "Investing in new programs and technologies across the Nicor Gas system is a key step toward building a state-of-the-art natural gas delivery system for northern Illinois."
Nicor Gas’s Meter Modernization program began in 2018, and deployment of the advanced metering infrastructure from Sensus, a Xylem brand, to all 2.2 million customers is expected to be complete this year.
As part of an aggressive, 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 the FlexNet EasyLink™ Mobile Communications solution, which allows technicians to automate data collection by obtaining meter reads using a portable, long-range radio device.
As the company quickly 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 FlexNet communication modules later this year, the Nicor Gas team sees the power of enhanced data collection extend 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 new 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."
Best of all, the new system was deployed without interruption of day-to-day natural gas service for most customers with outdoor-accessible meters. Read the full case study about Nicor Gas’s aggressive three-year deployment and how the system is benefitting its customers.
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About Nicor Gas
Nicor Gas is one of four natural gas distribution companies of Southern Company Gas, a wholly owned subsidiary of Southern Company (NYSE: SO). Nicor Gas serves more than 2.2 million customers in a service territory that encompasses most of the northern third of Illinois, excluding the city of Chicago. For more information, visit www.nicorgas.com.
Mark Van Hook