Real-time data, two-way communication, leak detection, remote service connections, and reduced labor costs are driving an increased adoption of AMI.
By Carol Brzozowski
Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) technology is engaging water consumers in the process of understanding their usage in a more pinpointed fashion. As present “smart” technology addresses those issues and mechanical systems are phased out and fixed, network systems are adopted with greater frequency. Future technology now on the drawing board will tighten the process to provide more robust analyses in service to water conservation, efficiency, and financial results.
Brian Fiut, senior product manager for Itron, points out smart metering is changing how water utilities operate.
“The growing amount of legislation regarding water loss mandates is forcing utilities to rethink the way they measure and meter their water supplies,” he says. “These technologies enable accurate usage information to be communicated to the customer, between the customer and the utility, and internally within the utility itself.
“This ‘actionable data’ helps deliver upon the expectations that AMI will be an invaluable tool toward successful water conservation, consumer education, system integrity management, and improved operational efficiency,” he continues.
Currently, 21 states list goals and targets for non-revenue water, with 11 offering performance incentives for water loss reduction, Fiut says, adding most legislation targets non-revenue water to be between 10 and 15%.
“Although we have not seen any agencies enforcing sanctions for utilities that do not meet the targets, in most cases utilities are encouraged to put a water loss management program in place,” says Fiut.
“Consequently, over the next five years, virtually all water utilities across North America will be reviewing their metering infrastructure and thinking about implementing smart metering or AMI, if they haven’t already,” he adds.
Fiut says Itron is optimistic that the next five years will see ever-increasing adoption rates by utilities that implement AMI technologies, with all water stakeholders reaping the benefits.
“One of the biggest challenges facing water providers today is aging infrastructure, which often is the cause of lost water due to leaks,” he says. “Leaks can cost utilities millions each year, including pumping and treatment costs, as well as missed revenue opportunities from lost water.”
Itron water AMI solutions gather granular data and integrate information from monitoring devices to help locate leaks more efficiently, stop the flow of non-revenue water, and improve overall system integrity, Fiut says.
“Also, with the collection and application of interval data, utilities can implement resource management programs and help educate their customers about effective water use and conservation,” he adds.
Itron also provides a comprehensive Meter Data Management (MDM) software solution. MDM is a prerequisite for utilities considering an AMI and streamline information technology (IT) support and turns meter data into valuable knowledge, Fiut says.
“Using a city of 100,000 as an example, consider how much data logging information is read in a year’s time,” he explains. “Reading 100,000 meters 24 hours per day times 365 days per year equals 876 million reads per year. Where is a utility going to store all of that data—not just today, but in future years? MDM is the data repository that allows the utility to extract the data and conduct advanced analysis on it.
“These advanced systems are growing in popularity because of their ability to help utilities improve their financials through the capture of lost water revenue and the inherent savings of automated meter reading,” he adds. “Additional operational benefits of an AMI system include the analysis of meter read data by all departments, including engineering, meter shop, customer service, accounting, distribution, operations, and conservation.”
Nearly two years ago, Aclara rolled out an enhancement to its AMI network with two-way end points.
“We believe in giving utilities a robust series of choices for their end points, so the backwards compatibility was job number one,” says Paul Lekan, vice president of marketing and communications. “We had several million units deployed in the field and quite a few are approaching that 20-year window.”
The benefit of the two-way communication is to provide a time synchronization to the endpoints. The read interval rate can be set remotely, allowing the utility take a read of its entire meter population and have them correlate with each other from a time standpoint, he adds.
“From a billing standpoint, now they can provide consumers their usage based on clock time versus hourly buckets. Utilities can plug this data into their analytic engines from an operational, planning, and financial standpoint, allowing utilities to use data to better control and operate their systems,” says Lekan.
In a traditional water loss analysis, outflows from water production are balanced against the meter population or billed use to determine the amount of water not accounted for in the revenue stream. There’s a need to adjust the data for the anomalies for meter population’s readings, which is alleviated through time-synchronized data, Lekan says.
“You get a much finer resolution in your analytics with this data,” he adds. “Some utilities are taking advantage of the more advanced meter functionality for larger or high-usage customers. You can mix and match the solution, so we’re very careful to ensure utilities have choices. They can deploy assets in the field that make the most sense for what they’re trying to achieve.”
In general, utilities that have had drive-by systems more than 10 years old are transitioning to fixed-network, Lekan says.
“Five years from now, we will be talking about the ability of the AMI data and AMI network to provide a more robust analysis of what the system is doing, allowing us to achieve the conservation, efficiency, and financial results that are going to be required in the future,” says Lekan.
“A lot of utilities are facing the perfect storm: aging infrastructure and trillions of dollars required to replace infrastructure,” says Lekan. “We’re not going to have the money to replace all of the pipes that need to be replaced. Utilities are taking in less money per capita. They require a significant amount of money to do general maintenance. And then, there’s a global economic situation that puts a constraint on the ability to invest. AMI data is now being used to better target the point of the infrastructure that needs the most attention.”
John Sala, director of marketing for collection hardware and software for Neptune Technology group, says one of the challenges faced by water utilities is that they’re entering the arena of AMI, “which has been somewhat defined by the electric industry, but they are very different from electric utilities.”
Neptune manufactures a fixed-network AMI system based on R450 MIU technology, as well as N_SIGHT R450 Host Software. Sala, who worked in electric utilities for 16 years before working for Neptune, says water utilities face “substantial challenges” compared to an electric utility.
“They are serving customers in situations vastly different in both the infrastructure and architecture, as well as system operability and moving the data around the utility to get value from it,” he says.
“They don’t typically have major IT infrastructure or large IT organizations to implement complex technologies,” adds Sala. “AMI definitely fits that bill. It’s complex technology, so we’re trying to address that gap between what is desired, what the technology demands, and what utility value the customers can support.”
One of the biggest challenges is dealing with data, Sala says.
“If you look at the smallest water utility of 10,000 points, when you do the math and figure they went from monthly reads to the now-standard hourly reads—and there’s been requests for 15-minute data—you start to realize this is getting into an area for types of databases and structures where you just can’t flip the switch and not pay any attention to it,” he says. “AMI systems are very demanding from a data footprint perspective. We have the ability to move some of the intelligence out to the end of the network to reduce the need to manage all of that data at the back office while still gaining the benefits of highly detailed sampling.”
The reason most utilities typically want 15-minute data isn’t specific to water profiling analysis as much as targeted end-point monitoring activities like leaks and backflows, “because 15-minute intervals with high resolution is critical to accurately do that kind of monitoring,” says Sala. “You’re not however going to be able to effectively use 15-minute data to identify a dishwasher versus a washing machine or anything unique like they are striving for in the electric industry.”
Neptune also is focusing on more process automation within the system.
“When the system detects conditions such as backflows being picked up in the distribution network by leak sensors, it’s automatically generating investigations to other the water utility systems as opposed to simply producing a report that no one runs or looks at and nothing ever happens,” says Sala.
Neptune favors a STAR network topology approach, Sala says.
“It comes down to ease of deployment,” he says. “You can analyze and do the propagation up-front and anticipate the way the network is going to perform much more readily before you start deploying it. You also put less technology out in the field, which is a major issue for water utilities because they are already very resource-strapped.
Photo: MUELLER WATER SYSTEMS
New AMI allows for two-way communications.
Photo: MUELLER WATER SYSTEMS
Software provides utilities with on-demand reads, outage detection/ restoration, and tamper and leak notification.
Sala points out that if a utility cannot do its own analysis of what could easily be many millions, or even billions, of records created by 15-minute data intervals, it quickly loses the value of having all that data backhauled, so his company advocates the use of its E-Coder to eliminate that heavy lifting by the utility.
“We believe resolution is critical,” he says. “We’ve seen utilities putting in AMI systems and low-resolution encoders or pulse generators. They have all of this data, but it’s very low resolution, so now they don’t get any actionable information. If you’re only tracking tens of gallons of change or less in your register, then getting hourly data is useless in terms of being able to assess micro changes. A tenth-gallon resolution is critical for AMI.”
Neptune focuses on ensuring the utility has the ability to support collector technology with its current resources and organization. For example, some AMI solutions require the actual collectors to be mounted at the same height as the antennae, “which means a simple trouble-shooting event can turn into a major orchestrated activity,” he says.
Hassan Ali, vice president and general manager of Mueller Systems, says that the basic capabilities available now through AMI allows municipalities to use a full two-way network to collect meter data readings to collect any important alerts available in the distribution system, including leak detection inside the premise and backflow alarms, and allows municipalities to share information with users. The technology driving that is Mi.Net, which stands for Mueller Infrastructure Network. It’s a two-way AMI system that provides utilities with on-demand reads in seconds, outage detection and restoration, and tamper and leak notification, among other benefits.
Advanced monitoring capabilities are designed to help utilities improve operational efficiency, customer service, and conservation, while reducing labor and operational costs.
“Through two-way capabilities, customer service representatives can instantly read the meter if someone is complaining about the bill,” says Ali. “They can share the hourly profile of the meter usage with the consumer so they can believe that the bill is correct.”
If there is a suspected leak, “They can look at the alarms that might be there for that meter while that customer is on the phone, and, within a few seconds, they can have all of this information,” he says. “It also allows them to change the configuration of the meter remotely.”
Additionally, with leak alarms, “you may suspect a slow leak, and you can’t see it in the data, so you can reconfigure the data meter to start collecting the data on a 15-minute basis or a five-minute basis to do a leak study,” says Ali.
With utility departments implementing more AMI and automated meter reading (AMR) while moving toward time-of-use billing, the task of managing and analyzing the information calls for efficient data management. To that end, MeterSense Solutions, a Division of Harris Computer Systems, developed the MeterSense data management application to perform such functions as tracking billing data to outage and restoration events, performance monitoring, and revenue protection.
MeterSense collects, manages, stores, and delivers smart grid information intelligently to help a utility reliably and quickly interpret vast quantities of data and automate the processes using it. Larry Chalupsky, a smart grid enterprise consultant, says MeterSense Solutions is seeing increased interest among utilities where using data and implementing solutions stabilize costs for utilities, while also providing consumers tools helpful in identifying problems along with analytics.
In this way, Chalupsky believes customers can “cost effectively address the management of their systems, but, more importantly, deal with demand capacity and environmental compliance.”
“Our goal is to assist utilities with limited budgets that are becoming reactive in operating their system,” says Chalupsky. “This approach was to add value to AMI metering systems and use these telemetry points to extend SCADA to the premise meters.”
As a result, end users have moved to effective predictive maintenance and customer engagement to resolve issues, including cost of service, water quality, inflow and infiltration, conservation, and water restriction management, as well as treatment capacity planning. MeterSense has worked with water and wastewater utilities from 1,000 meters to more than 150,000 meters.
MeterSense Solutions has opened its system to engineering firms, consultants, and utilities to develop “platform applications that can be shared across the collective user group of content experts in the water industry that has, and will, define the smart water grid,” says Chalupsky.
Performance Meter manufactures NetRadio ETRX, which collects data by wire attachment to switch output or encoded register meters. The system uses an emulation process to store accurate meter reading data accessed by drive-by or fixed systems. Readings can be monthly or as often as once a minute, allowing storage and radio transmission of a single reading or an extensive array of logged data. Performance Encoder Type Registers enables utilities to utilize remote reading technology such as AMR, touch read, or remote registration.
The system is designed to “talk to whoever calls its name,” explains Ron Gallon, Chief Technology Officer for Performance Meter. He adds there are plans for a tower for networking that will enable the system to communicate with units without having to replace hardware in the field.
Performance Meter’s market encompasses small-scale utilities. Many of the company’s customers are in California, where laws require single-family residences to be equipped with water-conserving plumbing by 2017.
“In California, if you pull water from the aqueduct, you have to be metered,” says Gallon. “Your system has to be metered by 2020, which is why there’s a big push in Sacramento to get everything metered. They want to know where their usage is coming from, if they have any leaks in the system.
“They can’t add manpower, because they’re strapped, so they move to some type of technology that will allow them to read the meters they are mandated to put in without adding more costs.”
Performance Meter’s drive-by system enables utilities to pull information from individual meters and map it against the main meter so they can reconcile how much was pumped against how much was used, Gallon says, adding that the main concern is pinpointing leaks.
John Fillinger, marketing manager for Badger Meter, says he sees the industry moving toward a practical management of data.
“We’ve seen a progression of the amount of data they’ve received from a monthly read through AMR and through AMI,” he says. “They were able to get daily reads and now we’re talking about 24-hour daily reads, a lot more data.”
“It’s just data, and without the proactive nature to make sense of that data and do actionable things to drive your business.”
A year ago, Badger Meter put into play its Advanced Metering Analytics (AMA) strategy.
“It’s that proactive nature, and what the utility is going to do with the data they receive,” says Fillinger. “It doesn’t take long for a fixed-network system to inundate a utility and put someone in a state of paralysis by which they have so much data, but it doesn’t make any sense to them.”
The AMA enables utilities to put alarms in place to provide notifications of a problem with the account.
Fillinger says customers are asking for a system that will grow with their needs.
“They’re looking for a system that, if they deployed it in a mobile application, will have the ability to grow with the utility into a fixed network, should that be what a utility elects to do in the future,” he says.
Sensus offers AquaSense, which Doug McCall, director of marketing for water business in North America describes as “a smart grid for the water product portfolio that includes everything from the endpoints, smart meters, and a few other technologies we’re coming out with up through a communications technology FlexNet.
McCall says today’s AMI technology is a fixed-base network covering the entire footprint of a water utility.
“The most common and practical application today is the metering piece,” he says. “We foresee that since that footprint covers the entire operations and infrastructure for the water utility that would stand beyond just the meter and our network is currently designed to get all types of data—not only metering data, but other SCADA-type applications, such as pressure, water quality, temperature, leak detection, and other applications.”
Graham Symmonds’ company, Global Water, views the AMI issue from the point of view emanating from its two business lines: the company owns and operates regulated water and wastewater utilities, and also manufactures integrated technology solutions through its Fathom line that is used by utilities to manage data.
“Global Water was formed in 2003 to own and operate water, wastewater, and recycled water systems in water scarce areas,” says Symmonds, chief technology officer and senior vice president of regulatory affairs and compliance for Global Water.
“Initially, Global Water was an investor-owned utility company,” he says. “We were at the forefront of deploying recycled water as a means of offsetting potable water use.”
The company focused its efforts on unincorporated areas of Arizona, where homeowners associations can opt for their own water and wastewater system, connect to an adjacent city, or do business with an investor-owned utility. Global Water acquired 14 utilities over a number of years, including Maricopa, south of Phoenix.
“When we acquired the utility in 2003, the 2000 census was 500 people and the 2010 census is 50,000 people,” says Symmonds. “It’s a very rapidly growing community; interesting from our perspective is that it was a clean sheet of paper, so we had the opportunity to install recycled water systems as we felt necessary, which ended up making Maricopa one of the most water efficient communities in the state, maybe even in the country. The per capita water demand is 40% less than other communities in the area.”
Global Water continued to acquire utilities, responding to developers as they acquired land and connected to its systems. The company was adding 900 homes a month until 2008. A wave of foreclosures ensued, with the vacancy rate reaching as high as 13%.
“It’s recovered quite a bit now, but at the time you go from riding the bullet train to riding the goat train,” says Symmonds.
The company shifted some of its efforts into the extra capacity by marketing Fathom as a utility optimization suite of services.
“It’s what we call the back office: billing systems, engineering, information systems, and asset management systems. We started offering billing and customer service to other municipalities in Arizona and California, and installing AMR and AMI systems for other utilities and connecting them up to the Fathom network.
Fathom’s target market is communities with less than 100,000 people and approximately 50,000 meters.
Cost control is a driving factor in the increase in the adoption of AMR and AMI technologies, Symmonds points out.
“Sending someone out to read meters every month is a bit of a waste of resources when you consider that you only get one data point in an entire month,” he says. “It’s also very labor-intensive to have someone walk or drive around with a drive-by system. There’s a lot of transaction costs associated with getting that one piece of data.”
In addition to labor costs, there’s the factor of revenue as well, he says.
“You can understand with an increased amount of data you get from an AMI system that you’re getting water theft, or you can see who’s not on the system,” says Symmonds. “From a water scarcity perspective, it’s alarming that we lose so much water in our utilities.”
Another factor with AMI data is the ability to determine if meters are calibrated and functioning properly, Symmonds says.
“We’ve found instances where the meter is too small or too large, and that drives its accuracy out of the specification,” he says.
With real-time consumption data available to consumers, they can make informed decisions about whether or not they should be using water and be informed about the impact of various activities in their lives in terms of water costs, Symmonds says.
“We know the cost of water is going to continuously increase,” he says. “We get to the point for the consumer where they now pay more for water than what they pay for their cell phone bill, and now they care about it. They want to know how to manage it, and without a solution to provide this real-time information to consumers, they can’t.”
|Photo: MUELLER WATER SYSTEMS
Fixed-network AMI streamlines data collection.
Global Water also has developed an iPhone application for consumers where they can view 24-hour water consumption data. The company is aiming for four-hour data.
“People can set their own personal alerts to help them manage this resource, and in the end it helps the utility manage the resource, because people have been operating in a vacuum of information about water forever,” says Symmonds.
“Ever since we had to carry the bucket from the river to our homes, we’ve decoupled people from their water, and it’s also been substantially subsidized over the course of about 100 years,” he adds. “We have to reintegrate people into the hydrologic cycle, and the only way we can do that is engage in data transfer.”
When it’s a two-way communication, consumers are able to send information back to utilities in terms of whether they believe their usage is excessive or if they see a leak on the street.
“It becomes deconstructing the utility monolith where the utility is no longer seen as a faceless, amorphous organization that happens to bill you,” says Symmonds. “It becomes more of a conversation between our consumers and the utility about how to use the resources in the most effective way possible.”
Metering and Managing
“While AMI is the emerging technology, it’s still just a data read in a lot of cases,” says Scott Williamson, CEO of Capstone Metering. “We’re pushing the intelligence down to the meter level.”
Capstone Metering manufactures the IntelliH20 wireless water meter, which features two-way communications, an on/off valve, water measurement, self-power generation and pressure reading. Mechanical meters have only been able to collect data and report historical data, Williamson says.
The meter addresses issues of concern in the industry, such as the water-energy nexus and aging infrastructure.
“With the water-energy impact, if we could monitor and manage just the pressure, we’re reducing pumping, storage, and treatment costs just on the electrical side of things, which is a fairly large number within itself,” says Williamson.
“If I don’t have to send a truck out to turn a meter on and off, we’re saving a significant amount of fuel costs and manpower to do that. With aging infrastructure, when we are able to measure pressure, we can dynamically reduce the pressure of the system and reduce leaks. We’re putting less stress on the pipes.”
Williamson foresees a time when the water industry will be more capable in managing its infrastructure through sensor technology and the ability to remotely activate and deactivate systems.
“As technology continues to grow and there are constraints on the system, if you have an emergency situation and need to dynamically shut down the end user from a contaminant or anything like that, that’s not too far off now,” says Williamson.
“If you have a hurricane in the southern part of the United States and you’ve got meters that have been disconnected or the foundation’s washed away, you can shut the meters off, conserving your reserves and resources that help you manage your systems so much more effectively,” he adds.
That changes the dynamic of sending personnel out to shut off all of the meters and do so effectively within hours, let alone days, he adds.
This is what end users are requesting, says Williamson.
“They’re asking for more communication and more data to manage the system,” he says. “The average meter being sold today is century-old technology wrapped in a different box. We’re changing that. We’ve had overwhelming requests for this type of technology in the past year as we begin to roll it out, and it’s been proving out where it’s going.”
Datamatic’s MOSAIC is an AMR solution that combines three meter-reading methodologies in a single system, using the same Firefly MIUs. Since AMR deployments are generally completed in phases, often over several years, most utilities will find themselves having to read a “mixed” system, says company CEO Ken Kercher.
In response to end users’ request for a turn-on, turn-off capacity for water, Datamatic has designed a system now in commercial production.
Ian MacLeod, vice president of marketing at Master Meter, says while AMI and AMR “is cool and sexy; you can’t abandon measurement. That’s where accountability begins.”
Master Meter manufactures the Octave Ultrasonic Meter. With no moving parts, it features flow sensitivity starting at 1/10 GPM, double beam ultrasonic measurement sensors, liquid crystal display (LCD) with immediate reporting and visual indicators for eight critical conditions, third-generation (3G) technology, and ConnectionFree design when paired with integral 3G AMR, among other features. Regardless of the manufacturer, each one does a “good job of getting data from the field to the utility,” says MacLeod of fixed-network and drive-by technology.
“You make this data valuable by developing better portals for the end users where each homeowner can log in and understand what their water footprint is to the degree that we can help them through our meter data management software solution.”
That solution is MasterLinx, a dashboard display that helps utilities determine areas of priority, such as leak notifications. Utilities can share the data with homeowners. There also is an optional billing software module. Master Meter also manufactures an Eco-Hybrid meter, which has a metal body, but is all plastic inside, complying with the latest NSF 372 and AB1953 standards for no lead. The meter features oscillating piston PD technology.
Master Meter is partnering with Landis+Gyr to connect with that company’s Gridstream advanced metering network through its Dialog 3G water meter register to provide multi-service and water utilities with a mesh network advanced metering service.
“They have millions of points across the country,” says MacLeod. “Any of those cities served under the Landis+Gyr footprint with a meter that has a universal output can connect to our new module that allows those meters to interface with the Landis+Gyr Gridstream network.”
MacLeod says end users want meters with no parts.
“I am amazed at the rate at which they are getting enthusiastic in adopting these products,” he says. “For a long time, people in the industry would be a little bit suspicious of a technology with no parts, thinking it will take their job away. But they see the benefits.”
Carol Brzozowski specializes in topics related to resource management and technology.