Get 'Smart': Saving Water And Money With Smart Water Metering
Each month Water Online presents a new "Peer Perspectives" Q&A, where we shed light on some of the issues affecting water industry professionals by speaking directly to you, the reader. Oft-cited concerns from municipal workers include operational efficiency and the protection of resources, so we were anxious to hear from this month's subject, an expert on smart metering systems. Craig Hannah has developed municipal utility projects for Johnson Controls for 10 years, the past five as development manager for the company's Municipal Utility Solutions Team. He is also a member of the American Water Works Association's Water Loss Control and Customer Metering Practice Committees. Hannah explains the elements of advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) and automated meter reading (AMR) systems — defining the terms, describing their benefits, and offering keys to successful implementation. He also provides real-world examples of smart metering systems saving money for utilities, as well as insight into their future use and capability.
Why is the implementation of smart water metering systems important for municipalities?
I see the damage caused by municipal water loss on a daily basis. It wastes money, causes extensive infrastructure damage, and depletes natural resources. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), at least 36 states are facing water shortages by 2013, making the conservation of water more important than ever for utilities nationwide. Energy services companies (ESCOs), including Johnson Controls, can help local governments minimize water loss, increase billable revenues, decrease operational and maintenance expenses, and create healthier, greener communities through comprehensive energy and water management programs, including smart water metering systems.
Utilities are beginning to realize the benefits of water loss management programs. In a survey of attendees at the 2011 AWWA Annual Conference & Exposition (ACE11) in Washington, DC, water utility representatives reported a 10% year-over-year increase in the planned or completed deployment of smart water meter systems. It is an exciting time to be a part of the water industry.
Many utilities have a host of infrastructure issues to address. Should meter replacement be considered a top priority?
According to the EPA, the volume of water lost annually through distribution systems is 1.7 trillion gallons at a national cost of $2.6 billion. Coupled with the financial consequences of inefficient water distribution systems, water scarcity makes effective water loss management critical to ensuring cost-effective and environmentally responsible water service for residents. In this economic climate, it is vital for municipalities to look for ways to do more with fewer resources.
Hard water, debris, and wear and tear reduce the accuracy of mechanical water meters over time. Consequently, the volume of apparent water loss increases, causing the utility to lose billable usage and water and sewer revenue. Once meter accuracy has been restored, a utility can install either an AMI or an AMR system to help keep the distribution system in peak operating condition.
Special reporting groups included in both of these systems enable utilities to track exceptional water usage conditions on a regular basis. AMR or AMI systems, used in tandem with automated leak detection systems, can identify leaks in a timely manner, which reduces real water loss and saves the utility both energy and money. These systems also enable the utility to provide enhanced customer service to the end user.
Although these technologies offer utilities environmental benefits, increased billable revenue, and operational and maintenance cost savings, implementing them can be an expensive endeavor. To help finance these upgrades without incurring capital expenditures, utilities can use performance contracting as a funding mechanism that enables utilities to reduce their carbon footprint, while using increased billable revenue and operational and maintenance savings to help pay for the improvements.
For the uninitiated, what is the distinction between AMR and AMI?
An AMR system is a process whereby utility meters are read remotely, minimizing or eliminating the need to obtain physical access to the meter or to estimate reads while acquiring the register reading and other data. The most common types of AMR systems are touch-read, walk-by, or drive-by.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission defines an AMI system as "a metering system that records customer consumption hourly or more frequently and that provides for daily or more frequent transmittal of measurements over a communication network to a central collection point."
With regard to water loss, please explain the difference between real losses and apparent losses. How can AMR/AMI systems help with each?
Real losses occur when water physically escapes from the distribution system prior to reaching the end user. Leaks, breaks, and storage tank overflows are the most common causes of real water loss. Apparent losses occur whenever water reaches the end user, but the utility cannot bill for its use. Leading causes of apparent losses include errors in the meter reading or billing process, improperly sized and typed water meters, inaccurate water meters, and theft of service.
Both types of water loss can be mitigated through either an AMR or AMI system. Real losses can be reduced if a utility uses its AMR or AMI system to backhaul the data from an automated leak detection system. The utility can also reduce real water loss through the creation of district-metered areas (DMAs). The purpose of DMAs is to quickly identify leaks and breaks by comparing the volume of water input in a specific zone to the amount used in that zone during the same period.
AMR or AMI systems reduce apparent losses by virtually eliminating human error in the meter reading process. As mentioned, special reporting groups also enable the utility to proactively manage each account. As a service to the utility, some ESCOs assign performance assurance engineers to monitor and report on the status of critical accounts, accounts that have abnormally high or low billed usage, and accounts that have generated conditional alarms.
What is the water consumer's role in the deployment of smart water meter systems? Is it important that they are informed and engaged?
Community outreach and engagement programs are very important for a successful project. The utility and the ESCO must educate residents about what to expect as water meters are replaced, and reassure them that water and sewer rates will not be increased to fund the project. Utilities should emphasize that any billing increases they may experience are the result of having new, accurate water meters that measure actual usage.
The utility and the ESCO can also use billboards, posters, videos, door hangers, and bill stuffers to inform area residents about the project.
We hear a lot about the "smart grid," but largely in the context of electricity. How does it relate to water?
In the municipal utility context, portions of the smart grid concept can apply to water. The smart grid facilitates two-way communication between the utility and customers, enabling the utility to operate its water systems more efficiently and reducing operational expenses. By providing interval data, smart grids support a utility's efforts to measure usage and spot usage trends that may indicate a potential problem. AMI system providers are also beginning to incorporate water quality sensors into their platforms. Solenoid valves on residential water meters that are controlled via the AMR/AMI system have been available for a few years.
If a utility chooses to provide its customers with Web access to their account, the smart grid can help end users see their own water usage and make informed decisions on how much water to use, when, and at what cost.
What are some recent projects that best exemplify the value of an AMI system?
At a time when municipal governments are striving to do more with less, the value that AMI systems deliver can be significant.
The city of Olathe, KS, has made great progress in reducing apparent water loss through the installation of new water meters with an AMI system. Thousands of Olathe's water meters had been in service for more than two decades and were operating at 90% accuracy or less. As part of a comprehensive water loss management program, more than 34,000 water meters were replaced and connected to an AMI system. As a result, the city has reduced its operational and maintenance expenditures and increased billable usage and water and sewer revenue. The guaranteed annual energy and water cost savings as part of the performance contract are on pace to repay the project cost in a term of less than 12 years.
The city of Port Huron, MI, was looking for a similar solution to increase both the efficiency and accuracy of the meter reading and billing process. The city saw value in having hourly data from each account and elected to implement an AMI system through a performance contract. Instead of a wholesale water meter replacement, the ESCO recommended that encoder registers be retrofitted to any water meter that had been in service for seven years or less.
What are some of the very latest capabilities attributed to AMI, and what can we expect in the future?
I'm very excited about the advances we're seeing in both metering technologies and AMI systems.
Johnson Controls is partnering with the Utah Water Research Laboratory and the city of Olathe, KS, to investigate new electromagnetic and transit-time ultrasonic water meters. By comparing the performance of these meters to that of traditional mechanical meters, we are investigating whether new developments are making static water meters a viable option for accurate water metering.
As for AMI systems, full two-way communication between the controlling computer and the endpoint is becoming the new standard for water utilities. AMI system providers are also beginning to introduce water quality sensors into their product lines. These systems are enabling utilities to reduce real water loss through both automated leak detection systems and DMAs.
The water industry must continue to harness these innovative new technologies and find additional ways to bring utilities savings, while promoting environmental and fiscal responsibility.
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