170 Days of Data

City of Asheville, N.C.The City of Asheville, N.C., covers a total area of more than 41 square miles and is home to more than 83,000 residents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Its water resources department works non-stop, providing the city?s residents with clean drinking water through approximately 56,000 service connections. The department is committed to continuously improving its products, systems and processes to maximize customer satisfaction and conservation of its water resources.?

Recently, the department began to realize that the manual collection of meter readings provided extremely limited information needed to effectively manage water loss levels and answer customers? billing-related questions. The department also noticed that its water meters had become outdated and were not accurately measuring the volume of water used by customers.

Immediately, the department began searching for options to upgrade its water meters and install a smart metering solution that would provide the information needed to better account for the water distributed through its network.??

Taking Action
Asheville turned to Mueller Systems to replace all of its water meters and install Hot Rod ? its automated meter reading (AMR) system. The components of the system work together to help utilities reduce the amount of time it takes to manually collect meter reads, more effectively manage water usage and improve customer service.

Automated meter reading units that were installed at each of Asheville?s meters transmit monthly consumption reads, and leak and backflow alerts via radio frequency, while internally storing hourly consumption data for up to 170 days (six months) for retrieval. The system?s data management tools are mounted on service vehicles where they automatically collect meter reads and instant data logging alarms as a meter reader drives along selected routes (at posted speed limits). On a laptop within the vehicle, progress screens and route maps display collected readings and meters that still need to have their data collected. Meter locations are graphically represented on the route maps by blue icons that disappear as soon as readings are collected. If a leak, reverse flow, no flow or tamper alarm is received, the corresponding icon turns a different color, immediately prompting the meter reader to proactively approach customers about possible leaks or other service-related issues.

The Results
Immediately following the first phase of project, in which 48,000 meters were replaced and deployed with the AMR system, Asheville?s water department began seeing results. Department workers are now able to automatically collect meter readings from their vehicles instead of having to stop at each customer location.?This has allowed the department?to reduce meter reading times by 60 percent while?being able to cut the department?s meter reading staff by 50 percent. These employees were then re-classified and delegated new duties related to work as meter technicians to ensure all new assemblies were maintained properly. The city?s ability to answer customers? billing-related questions has also improved as a result of being able to leverage the system?s reporting features while on the phone with customers.

?The data and increased efficiencies provided by AMR and the new meters have been very impressive,? said Brandon Buckner, meter services superintendent for the City of Asheville. ?We?ve drastically reduced the amount of time it takes to collect meter readings every billing cycle and we?ve seen revenues increase due to our ability to more accurately account for water used by customers. Previously, we weren?t always able to answer customers? billing-related questions because we didn?t have accurate and reliable data. Now, we have the information at our disposal to answer their questions and help them better understand their bills.?

Data logging and consumption profiling made possible by Hot Rod?s storage of 170 days of consumption data and alarms provides the department with detailed information that helps it to identify leaks and track water loss. The city credits these advanced features for helping it to identify leaks and track water loss in a timelier manner ? an important capability considering water loss costs utilities worldwide an estimated total of $18 billion per year, according to the World Bank.

?Receiving leak alerts and being able to access stored metering data ? both in the field and in the office ?? has helped us reduce and better control our non-revenue water levels,? said Buckner. ?Being able to identify specific areas where most of our leaks are concentrated also allows us to more efficiently prioritize water main repair and installation projects that can further increase revenues and reduce water loss.?

According to Buckner, the city?s water department is using this type of information for its part in a capital improvement program that Asheville is currently ramping up to improve conservation, infrastructure and customer service throughout the city.

??As part of our capital improvement program, we?ve created a data technician position that will focus exclusively on answering customers? questions and alerting them of household leaks or excessive water consumption based on data provided by the AMR system,? said Buckner.?

?We?re also in the process of establishing a non-revenue water committee that will use the data to further identify and reduce current water loss levels. These developments, which are largely made possible by our decision to implement Hot Rod, will not only help us improve conservation as a utility, but will also enable us to help our customers improve conservation as well.?

Matt Thomas is vice president of Cleveland, N.C.-based Mueller Systems.

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