2022 Trends: What Water Utilities Are Prioritizing in the Year Ahead

By Morrice Blackwell

While 2020 was challenging due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, 2021 presented its own obstacles as the lingering pandemic forced communities and utilities to navigate a new normal. Looking ahead, water utilities are seeking to overcome operational challenges by driving revenue, collecting additional data insights and optimizing their operations. Top trends include:

  1. Transitioning aging mechanical meters to electronic models
  2. Implementing flexible AMI systems to capture more revenue
  3. Maximizing meter reads by collecting enhanced data points
  4. Optimizing data efficiency by removing legacy data silos

Making the Shift from Mechanical to Electronic Meters

Mechanical meters have been a steadfast option for water utilities for more than a century. Although they continue to be a reliable choice, many utilities are transitioning to electronic meters as their mechanical counterparts naturally reach end of life.

Electronic water meters — also referred to as static or smart water meters — provide utilities with impressive performance. Take, for example, E-Series Ultrasonic flow meters. These meters use solid-state technology in a compact, weatherproof housing, have no moving parts and require minimal to no maintenance over their lifespan. This is an important benefit as seasoned utility staff members retire and less experienced employees come on board, creating knowledge gaps.

In addition to minimizing maintenance, electronic meters can also provide enhanced data points, including integrated pressure and temperature information. This helps utilities be more proactive in identifying issues — such as system leaks — before they cause larger problems.

Enhanced data can also vastly improve utility resilience, which was directed in the 2018 America’s Water Infrastructure Act (AWIA) Section 2013. The mandate requires community drinking water systems servicing more than 3,300 people to develop and update risk assessments and emergency response plans (ERPs) every five years. With a smart water system in place, utilities have an immense advantage in monitoring their drinking water system and protecting community members from potential service interruptions or harm.

Gathering Additional Data from Meter Reads

Water meters were initially introduced as a tool to measure flow — i.e., consumption — and bill customers for water use. While this is still true today, modern water meters can provide much more than just standard water flow reads. Utilities can implement smart water meters to collect the following data:

  • Pressure: Monitoring water pressure empowers utilities to identify problems within their water system. Low pressure can result in contaminated water from ground water sources. High water pressure surges can crack pipes or cause breaks in a system’s water main. Severe changes in pressure can weaken pipes over time and ultimately lead to future leaks or premature aging of distribution system infrastructure.
  • Temperature: Water temperature is critical in monitoring overall water quality within a distribution system. Changes in temperature — or extreme highs and lows — can compromise water quality, making it unsafe for consumers. Tracking temperature information gives utilities great insights to monitor overall water safety and system health.
  • Leak Detection: Leaks within a water distribution system don’t just result in revenue loss — they also result in supply and pressure losses, which can create larger issues. Monitoring for and identifying leaks as early as possible can save water and reduce the costs associated with fixing and pressurizing the system.

Capturing More Revenue with Flexible AMI Systems

Commercial and industrial (C&I) accounts typically comprise most of a utility’s revenue because the customers demand more water based on their operations. If utilities have a walk- or drive-by automated meter reading (AMR) system, reads are collected at a set interval — typically once per month. This means leaks and excess water use can go unnoticed for an extended period of time, leaving C&I customers frustrated and more likely to argue high bills.

Leaks within a water distribution system don’t just result in revenue loss — they also result in supply and pressure losses, which can create larger issues.

With an advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) system, utilities can collect meter read information in near real-time. Paired with cellular endpoints and a data management system — such as Badger Meter’s BEACON Software as a Service (SaaS) — data can be collected in 15-minute increments up to four times per day. This empowers utilities with significantly more granular data and provides them with a proof-source displaying excess water usage down to specific times and days, while also monitoring overall use for C&I accounts to identify potential metering issues.

Another leading benefit of transitioning to a cellular AMI system is that additional infrastructure isn’t required. Utilities can simply add remote monitoring and data collection capabilities to specific industrial accounts to start. This in no way affects existing AMR accounts, which can continue running status quo. It is also a good opportunity for utilities to trial run an AMI system if they are not entirely sure about the benefits of a full deployment.

Interfacing Meter Data with Other Management Systems

Gathering data is critical for today’s utility operations but the data is only valuable if they’re able to put it to use. The problem is that many data silos exist within water utilities, which makes understanding the water system on a holistic level almost impossible.

Utilities are upgrading to analytics-based systems like BEACON SaaS so that it can interface metering data with legacy data systems, including GIS, CIS and SCADA to break down these data silos. This streamlines how data is consumed and understood and empowers utilities to find greater levels of efficiency within their operations.

Morrice Blackwell is senior manager of utility solutions at Badger Meter, and an industry expert in water technology products with more than 27 years of experience in engineering, marketing and sales. He is also the founder and host of the water utility video podcast, “The Smart Water Show.” Watch episodes at smartwatershow.com.

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