By Darla Bowers, Itron, Inc.
Utilities come in various shapes and sizes but they all strive for essentially the same end result. They seek to deliver water and energy to their customers in an efficient, safe manner while safeguarding the utility's revenue stream, minimizing expenses, maintaining customer satisfaction, and protecting the supply of water. The market has witnessed a trend favoring fixed based systems in order to achieve these goals and more. Water utilities are concerned with future demands on their systems, aging infrastructure, and potential supply limitations. The 2009 Scott Report indicates fixed network shipments in North America were up over 47 percent from 2008 to 2009 for water utilities. From 2004 to 2009, fixed network shipments for water modules resulted in a compounded annual growth rate of almost 60%. While not all fixed network systems provide similar features and functions, utilities are investing and deploying advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) systems designed to measure, collect, and analyze usage, as well as interact with other advanced devices to achieve total system monitoring.
In order to develop a business case that reflects the operations of a utility, an understanding must be gained of the utility's current operations and future needs. The intended benefits from automation should be weighed against the cost of the enabling technology. If the realized benefits exceed project costs, then the project should be undertaken. When looking at automation, it is easy to see the reduction in basic meter reading costs. While the cost of meter reading can vary due to many factors, this is one of the main expenditures to be eliminated through automation. By deploying AMI, costs associated with manual meter reading can be avoided, including meter reading salaries, benefits, vehicle costs, cellular phone expenses, handheld meter reading systems and maintenance, general overhead expense, etc. Additionally, rising insurance cost and exposure to various liabilities is another reason to take meter readers off the street.