The Mean and Metered Streets
Tuesday, June 05, 2012
Master Meter’s Greg Land says while water utility managers may see the value in a new technology, “Sometimes it takes a bit to convince the people above you to make that big change because it takes money, and sometimes the people above you are doing what they can to keep the utility in the black.”
That means utility managers have to do their homework to demonstrate to the municipality’s decision-makers that there will be a return on investment (ROI), Land says.
“The more you know about how a product works, the better you are going to be to make changes or improvements for your utility,” says Land. “It’s discouraging when you find someone just satisfied with the way things are.
“The newest cell phone comes into the market, and there’s a line around the corner to buy one of these,” adds Land. “Water meters are different. People are happy sticking with what they know.”
Also, municipalities often must go with the lower bid, he says.
Acknowledging that the political climate is not always conducive to investments in new technology, Elster’s Tom Gwynn says there are many ways utility managers can move beyond resistance from customers and municipal officials.
“The much quoted cliché, ‘If it isn't broken, don't fix it’ has applied to the water industry for many years,” he says. “However, the need to eliminate lead will drive the use of polymer metering products. There is an opportunity to be proactive and consider polymer meter technologies today incorporating metal threaded connections, thereby eliminating the need to use plastic threads.”
AMR and AMI technologies represent electronic technology driven by software, Gwynn points out.
“Its popularity is allowing it to become mainstream to the water industry,” he says. “The best way to avoid risk is to insist on an AMI pilot. Serious suppliers will accommodate this request.”
The basic value proposition in water conservation is simple, adds HydroPoint’s Chris Spain, offering up some talking points for utilities to present to their customers.
“We have to raise rates,” he says. “If we do not, we cannot meet the entire population’s needs, and we’ll have no community at all. We recognize there’s a hardship in regard to having to deal with a new expense, particularly in this economic environment. Nonetheless, we are promoting, rebating and financing conservation solutions that should mitigate these rising costs if not offset it completely.
“It’s a win-win,” he adds, “because it all comes down to wasting water isn’t just dangerous for the community, it actually adds to global warming because of the huge amount of embedded energy associated with processed water. When we waste a gallon of water, we’re not just wasting a precious resource, we’re wasting a lot of embedded energy.”
Spain suggests water utilities take a page from the operating strategies of electric utilities.
“They’ve been successful in raising rates in a very hostile environment with government oversight with a portion of those raised rates going toward conservation solutions,” he says. “It’s a win-win-win for the environment, the community, and utility as well.”
There are challenges from the consumer side as well. Master Meter’s Ian MacLeod is cognizant that there is an attitude that smart meters are akin to “Big Brother.”
“We understand that there are misconceptions in the marketplace about the kind of information that this technology provides,” he says. “It is not spyware for the utility, but rather a powerful platform that helps empower the homeowner or business to better address and manage their own water consumption footprint, lower their bill, and proactively address costly leaks. It is an exciting time for utilities, in that they now have technology to help forge better relationships with their customers and share information with them.”
When it comes to dealing with possible pushback from property owners or elected officials, Doug McCall says Sensus is asked on occasion to address town councils.
Some people fear the signals transmitted from data systems may interfere with a wireless network or even cause health problems.
“We’ll make our technical experts available to the city to address that,” says McCall. “We’ll get references from other customers and anything the utility directs us to do because they’re getting concerns or have external pressure over. We’ve got quite a bit of experience showing there is hard data out there that can really counteract some of the claims.
“At the end of the day, we only transmit four times a day, typically in a hole 20 feet from the front of the door. In the meantime, we spend a few hours with an RF [radio frequency] device up to the side of our head. It really pales in comparison to all of the other stuff that’s out there if there is a legitimate concern.”
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