The Metering Portfolio
AMI and AMR provide a complete toolbox for the water resource manager interested in greater control over supply and demand. For example, Itron’s product portfolio for water encompasses three major areas: AMR, AMI, and leak detection. When it comes to AMR, meter data can be provided at regular intervals and can alert utilities to leaks or meter tampering. AMI ups the ante by combining data recording with fixed, mobile, or walk-by collection. This all gets wrapped up with water loss management, which can include acoustic or digital leak detection and software analysis.
More often than not, utilities want a future-proof system, even if the utility does not have an immediate plan in place to offer it to their customers. As such, for AMR and AMI manufacturers, being able to meet customer needs—whether that includes fixed-network solutions or deployment flexibility—involves navigating the desire for simple implementation and complex information systems.
“They don’t want to be locked into an ‘all-or-nothing’ solution,” says Brian Fiut, senior product manager for Itron. “They frequently want the ability to start with simple AMR mobile collection and migrate to full fixed-network AMI over time.”
In addition to its AMI offerings, Aclara is in the process of conducting commercial trials for fixed-network acoustic logger integration for leak detection through a partnership with Gutermann International, which manufactures STAR ZoneScan, a mechanical device that’s coupled to the water valve and is designed to record the noise signature inside a water system.
“They feed the noise signature into a software solution that then does a very robust analysis of units deployed, and then using system information like pipe diameter, pipe length, and distance between valve boxes, they are able to correlate the source of leak noises,” explains Paul Lekan, vice president of marketing and communications for Aclara.
The logger is deployed by a crew that returns at a later time to pull it, download the data, and then upload it into a software system.
“It’s a very labor-intensive process,” explains Lekan. “Gutermann embedded the loggers into the Aclara network. An AMI network is very good at taking predictable, consistent data packets from the endpoint node to the utility, and is ideally suited for transporting packetized data. The acoustic logger information is a packetized sound sample.”
Through the Aclara AMI system, “We tell the loggers where to start anywhere in the system, then to stop, and then we bring that data back through the AMI system rather than a mechanical process or a high-touch process,” says Lekan. “This is the first time the distribution system logger has been embedded or close coupled to an AMI system to provide data transfer, and the results are great.”
For John Sala, director of marketing for collection hardware and software for the Neptune Technology group, the decision to create E-coder product monitors came about as work with clients demonstrated that they needed 15-minute data intervals in assessing whether or not a customer has leaks at their home.
“Those 15-minute intervals allow the system to more accurately track whether or not consumption or backflows have occurred and even if they were major or minor backflows and intermittent or a full leak,” explains Sala. “We’re doing analysis at the end point and simply sending a flag for that 15 minutes indicating for the conditions that occurred and then the utility with the two-way communications of our AMI system can turn that on or off or make it a priority or not.”
Sala says within five years, the industry will see more pressure monitoring and shut-off valve capabilities.
“Within five to 10 years, the technology will allow that to be more attainable but now you’ve turned the water utility into a high-valued target from a security perspective much like has happened with electricity,” he says. “The challenge with water is they don’t have power at the end point, so we have colliding requirements: moving more data, having more control, and potentially doing things that have higher risks, so you’re going to add weight in terms of security encryption with the requirement that the device be able to run off a single power source for 20 years.
“I’m sure all water utilities would love to have the ability to disconnect and reconnect their customers, but how willing are they to take a system that has devices that need to be visited within 10 years and get replaced and updated as opposed to 20 years, which is pretty much still the standard applied by the water utilities.”
Its scalability allows for additional technologies to be deployed in stages as needs and budgets allow. Benefits include on-demand meter readings, e-mail alerts, and alarms based upon near real-time information, and the ability to best manage water and electricity resources through ongoing access to custom data and information.
Mueller Systems’ Mi.Net system uses Mi.Node transceivers on metering devices to gather and pass data through unlicensed radio frequency to area Mi.Hubs. The gateways collect and upload the data to either the utility’s server or hosted server with Mi.Host MDM software via GPRS (General packet radio service) or other data backhaul options. Mi.Host’s intuitive user interface allows utilities to easily manage and monitor the Mi.Net System from the office or in the field. End users have been asking for a way to share information with water consumers and also notifications for leak alerts provided through text message or e-mail right.
Also in response to customer requests, Mueller Systems recently introduced the 420 remote disconnect meter (RDM), a fully integrated RDM for the water industry that enables municipalities to remotely manage water services through AMI networks, such as Mueller Systems’ Mi.Net Mueller Infrastructure Network for Utilities from the office or from their vehicles.
“Pulling people off of the street, the avoidance of personnel costs—everything from insurance to vehicle maintenance to liability associated with meter reading—is certainly the biggest piece of the pie,” says Sensus’ Doug McCall. “This—as well as other demographic information on the facilities—not only can assist in system planning capacity, but also can assist equitable sewer fee allocations.”
The network also has the ability to do near-real-time notification, McCall says.
“We can allocate particular parts of our network to give three-second response time for water quality alerts,” he says.
AMI helps utilities derive financial benefits from an operation and maintenance standpoint, McCall points out.
“It’s not inexpensive to put in one of these networks,” adds McCall. “Someone’s not going to invest the capital unless they’re going to see some kind of benefit, so by utilities becoming smarter about the way they operate, they can achieve cost savings from the personnel side of meter reading, but also go out to avoidance of leaks and use less electricity to move and pump the water.”
In describing Master Meter’s latest iteration, Ian MacLeod explains that while mechanical meters still have a role, solid-state measurement is where the industry is headed.
“Most of these meters are battery-operated, so it’s a very attractive technology,” he says.
At some point, Master Meter will discontinue mechanical compound meters.
“It’s clear that the industry has been comfortable in adopting solid state measurement and its superior, not just in terms of overall accuracy, but so there are no maintenance hassles,” says MacLeod. “There is no degradation of accuracy over time. It promotes lifelong accountability at every measured point.”
All in all, Graham Symmonds, chief technology officer and senior vice president of regulatory affairs and compliance at Global Water, describes it best, saying that automatic metering is a function of getting information data bits into the right hands, so that it can be “analyzed to provide these services for these communities.”