Digital Connectivity and the Water Industry

Digital Connectivity and the Water Industry

By Maritza Jackson, Badger Meter

The face of the AMR industry is changing with the entrance of network communication providers. These telecommunications experts bring their two-way network expertise to the traditional, one-way network world of utilities. For water utilities, in particular, two obstacles impede their success. The first obstacle is the physical location of most water meters, and the second is the method of connection to the network. Once solved, water utilities will garner the many benefits that network communication systems offer.

Trials of AMR began in the mid-1970s with telephone companies frequently providing meter reading services. The only information provided was a meter reading done at the utility`s normal reading schedule. These early trials were primarily stopped due to the inability to justify the cost of the project. With the break-up of AT&T and the announcement of the modified final judgment, the AMR industry began to develop. The first annual Automatic Meter Reading Association (AMRA) Symposium was held in 1988, with most of the presentations focused on telephone-based technologies.

The 1990s heralded the addition of radio frequency to the AMR industry. The upcoming 9th Annual AMRA Symposium includes telephone, radio frequency, pocket radio, low earth-orbiting satellites and many other technologies. Most work in some type of two-way network configuration. The meter`s communication module sends and receives information from the network. Unlike the traditional gas, water and electric utility networks, the product must flow both ways. Additionally, the integrity of the network is maintained by more frequent communication than the traditional monthly meter reading.

For water utilities, connection to these networks is often difficult, because almost 60 percent of water meters are in meter pits or vaults. Appropriate packaging of the electronics for a pit`s high moisture environment is essential and must be considered when making an AMR decision. Indeed, the meter itself should be carefully examined during the decision-making process. With the costly investment necessary to install a system, utilities must be certain the data being collected is the most accurate possible. Because the foundation of the system is the meter, time should be spent choosing a meter that will provide long-term, accurate performance.

The location of the meter pit or vault dictates that power for the communication module be self-contained, most often using battery power. However, as previously mentioned, these networks are read frequently, sometimes as often as every 15 minutes in order to ensure network reliability. Therefore, the battery must provide sufficient power for the module to communicate every 15 minutes, 24 hours per day, 365 days per year, for typically 10 years–or 350,400 times.

To consistently provide these readings, a very low-powered register on the water meter is required. This leads to the second obstacle often found in the water industry–systems based on higher-power registers. These systems were developed when AMR was more of an island of information. The requirement was to collect a meter reading, and often the power to perform this task was carried by the meter reader in a hand-held data collector.

Unfortunately, these systems require approximately 500 times more power to read than devices that provide a digital signal. Installation of a low-powered, digital, electronic register puts water utilities in a position to connect to the many network offerings. These devices are available today and offer connectivity to today`s systems and those in the future. The registers provide a simple on-and-off signal that communicates with systems in a language they understand–digital.

What advantages would these systems provide water utilities? Most network systems provide more than just a meter reading. Enhanced services include demand meter reading, time-of-use metering, on-request reads, selectable billing dates, logical service disconnect and tamper-theft detection.

In order to position a utility to take advantage of the network communication systems for today and tomorrow, water utility managers must carefully investigate three areas:

1. a meter that will provide the most accurate revenue over the longest period of time,

2. a register that permits the utility connectivity to systems available today and a platform for connection to the systems of the future, and

3. packaging which provides proven protection for electronics put into a hostile meter pit environment. Products that meet these requirements are available today. Water utilities should begin now to secure the benefits of a network communication system for their utility.

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Author

  • The Clarion Energy Content Team is made up of editors from various publications, including POWERGRID International, Power Engineering, Renewable Energy World, Hydro Review, Smart Energy International, and Power Engineering International. Contact the content lead for this publication at Jennifer.Runyon@ClarionEvents.com.

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The Clarion Energy Content Team is made up of editors from various publications, including POWERGRID International, Power Engineering, Renewable Energy World, Hydro Review, Smart Energy International, and Power Engineering International. Contact the content lead for this publication at Jennifer.Runyon@ClarionEvents.com.

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