Muni Improves CS, Operational Efficiencies

by Hassan Ali, Mueller Systems

A combination utility that supplies water and electric services to northwestern Missouri’s business and energy hub was replacing more than 4,000 outdated water and electric meters when it determined the project presented an ideal opportunity to implement a systemwide advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) network.

Chillicothe Municipal Utilities (CMU) provides electricity to some 4,700 customers through eight substations and 115 miles of line.

Chillicothe Municipal Utilities’ server rack

It also provides water to some 4,000 customers through a system of four alluvial wells, a water treatment plant that can provide 6 million gallons of water per day and 90 miles of transmission and distribution mains.

Challenge

CMU had been considering adding a two-way AMI system for its water and electric services to help improve customer service and operational efficiency in ways that would bolster its water and electric infrastructure to help meet future service demands.

Solution

CMU implemented the Mi.Net Mueller Infrastructure Network for Utilities, a two-way AMI system developed by Mueller Systems, a subsidiary of Mueller Water Products Inc. and provider of water infrastructure products and services and advanced metering systems for water, electric and gas systems.

The Mi.Net system fully automates the meter reading to billing process and links meters, distribution sites and control devices in a single data network.

Its major components work together to completely automate the process of accurately determining how much water and electricity customers use—for any time period—and allows CMU to accurately bill customers for that usage.

Transceivers known as Mi.Nodes on electric and water metering devices gather and pass water and electricity usage data on a daily basis via radio frequency to an area data collection module known as a Mi.Hub.

This gateway collects and uploads the usage data to Mi.Host—the Mi.Net system’s master data management software—where it is relayed via general packet radio service or other backhaul options to CMU’s server and its third-party billing software.

Metering devices in the system are configured to alert CMU of outages or potential leaks as they occur, serving as silent sentinels that constantly monitor the distribution network to provide near real-time notification of such occurrences. Should the municipality want to receive an on-demand reading from a meter while on the phone with a customer or a move-in or move-out reading request outside of its normal once-a-day data transmission, it can send a signal from the office to the meter to prompt such a reading.

Results

Prior to implementing the system, CMU was considerably limited in its ability to address certain customer service issues.

When customers had usage or billing concerns, CMU service representatives were unable to show electric or water usage based on specific dates or times; all they could provide was monthly usage information.

With the new system, CMU and its customers can view electricity and water usage on a monthly, weekly, daily, even hourly basis.

Access to such detailed information has enabled CMU to help customers improve electric and water conservation and to detect potential household water leaks responsible for losing water that customers pay for unknowingly.

As a result of the system’s real-time outage alerts, CMU immediately is notified of even the smallest power outage that might indicate a bad electrical connection in a customer’s home.

By receiving these alerts, the municipality proactively can dispatch field crews to fix such problems during normal business hours before they result in after-hours power outages.

“The Mi.Net system has enabled CMU to simultaneously improve customer service and operational efficiency while reducing costs,” said Jim Gillilan, CMU general manager. “We are able to help customers improve conservation and save money by providing them detailed, on-demand views of their water and electricity usage. This real-time data access allows us to make sure we are applying our service factors in appropriate ways, and alerts provided by the system have helped reduce operating costs by giving us the means to address potential outages ahead of time before they result in service interruptions.”

CMU also experienced an immediate increase in revenue as a result of the implementation.

 

Veteran Chillicothe Municipal Utilities meter reader Doug Assel views near real-time water and electric usage rates through the Mi.Net system interface. Before CMU’s implementation of the AMI network, Assel and other CMU meter readers had to manually collect readings each month. Now, readings are automatically sent through the network to CMU’s office, where they are stored in the municipality’s server.

Before the Mi.Net system, the utility’s billing gap was approximately 15 days—beginning when a meter reader collected usage data and lasting until bills were issued.

The Mi.Net system’s integration with CMU’s third-party billing software helped the municipality reduce its read to billing to less than three days.

By reducing the gap, CMU experienced revenues for some 1.3 million kilowatt-hours of electricity and 10 million gallons of treated water and reduced the amount of unbilled receivables.

As a result of the improved customer service and operational efficiencies, CMU plans to implement Mi.Data, Mueller Systems’ Web portal that is part of the the Mi.Net system.

Mi.Data graphically presents usage data to consumers in a format that allows them to monitor their water consumption, compare current usage to previous periods, configure individual alerts and set budget and water conservation goals.

Mi.Data is expected to be available in fourth quarter 2011.

Author 

Hassan Ali is vice president and general manager of Cleveland, N.C.-based Mueller Systems, a subsidiary of Mueller Water Products Inc., a North American provider of water infrastructure products and services. Ali served as director of quality and business excellence at Siemens Power Transmission & Distribution and as general manager, vice president and director of marketing for Landis + Gyr.

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