4 Reasons Upgrading to AMI Means More Than You Think for Your System

water meter cover

By Alan Breese

It is no secret that over the past several years, the water industry has seen an increasing number of water utilities looking to upgrade their aging water infrastructure to improve operational efficiencies and more accurately manage their water systems. Technologies—such as advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), especially those using secure cellular networks—have been particularly valuable.

AMI — an integrated system of water meters, endpoints, communication networks and data management technology — empowers water utilities with greater visibility across their system to make smarter, data-driven strategic decisions.

In Bedford, Texas, the city’s Public Works Department partnered with Badger Meter to explore and deploy a technology upgrade to AMI. Utility leaders recognized the need to update the city’s aging water infrastructure with a scalable water metering solution that was well-positioned for the future. After a two-month pilot deployment, Bedford became an early adopter of smart water meter solutions using the cellular network.

Cellular AMI has helped the city increase the reliability and accuracy of its data collection, improve customer service and eliminate the need for costly infrastructure maintenance. The solution also helped Bedford’s Public Works Department stay focused on what they do best: delivering high-quality water to their customers. Now, the city does not need to worry about monitoring, managing and maintaining a radio communications network over the next 20 years. A cellular solution incorporates Network as a Service (NaaS) as a standard part of its offering, therefore allowing Bedford to rest easy when planning for the future.

Like Bedford, other water utilities can look to the following core reasons to see how upgrading to AMI solutions can positively impact their respective water systems:

1. Time Savings and Long-Term Scalability

As part of its project, Bedford installed an AMI software suite, cellular endpoints and 15,000 ultrasonic water meters from Badger Meter across its system, which spans 10 square miles and serves 49,500 water and wastewater customers. Initially, the Public Works Department looked at implementing mechanical meters with a drive-by system.  However, after analyzing their goals and objectives, the City of Bedford quickly realized a drive-by system would not provide the efficiency and flexibility they needed.

When deciding between a drive-by meter reading system and a fixed network, it comes down to what the utility wants to accomplish. If a utility decides that all it wants to obtain is a billing read, then a drive-by solution is the best dollar spend. However, if a utility sees the value in having timely metering data to improve the overall management of their water system, fixed-network AMI is the ideal solution.

Switching to an AMI solution freed up valuable staff time and provided up-to-date, timely data for the City of Bedford. Unlike drive-by or walk-by automated meter reading (AMR) solutions, AMI reduces utility staff time spent in the field collecting data. Rather, an AMI system captures metering data every 15 minutes and transmits the data directly to the utility at predetermined intervals, four times per day.

By having access to that level of regular insight, water utilities can make better day-to-day operational decisions. And because AMI systems utilizing cellular networks have no fixed infrastructure, utilities can easily scale their system as the community grows by simply connecting additional meters and cellular endpoints to the network.

2. The Power of Accurate Data

Bedford immediately saw a 20 to 25 percent increase in meter accuracy after implementing its upgraded water meters. This new level of sustained accuracy was unprecedented in helping the utility decrease non-revenue water. Now they can be rest assured they are not losing revenue due to poor meter accuracy. Having a clear, reliable understanding of its system also allows utilities to make more strategic decisions about future investments and develop stronger risk assessments and emergency response plans.

3. An Opportunity for Wider Integration

The water meter industry is evolving more rapidly than ever before, and water utilities are becoming more aware of smart city operations. By implementing cellular-enabled solutions, cities can benefit from longer endpoint battery lifespan, greater scalability and increased flexibility in deployment. Cellular solutions also allow for easier integration of smart sensors for water, parking meters, lights, transportation and more without duplicating infrastructure.

4. Enhanced Customer Service

Bedford is also using its actionable data to improve customer service. After implementing a cellular-enabled AMI solution, which also gave its customers access to a consumer engagement tool from Badger Meter, the Public Works Department has received fewer customer complaints and reduced the time previously spent managing customer issues. For example, when the utility had a customer contact their office to dispute an increased bill, the Public Works Department is able to immediately show the customer their usage data and rectify the situation quickly and painlessly.

Customers can monitor their water usage and consumption patterns down to the hour in an app, via smartphone, computer or tablet. In addition to making data available to customers, the data is also helping the utility team advise customers on how to better manage their water use. In one instance, the utility was able to help a customer find their sprinkler system was running two times longer than necessary.

A successful combination of ingenuity, technology and teamwork helped make Bedford a pioneer in deploying a smart water solution that works efficiently today and well into the future.

Alan Breese is a solution architect with Badger Meter. Breese collaborates with the Badger Meter sales team to provide utilities and municipalities with cutting-edge metering and technology solutions to meet their unique challenges. He is a member of the Texas section of the American Water Works Association and the Texas Association of Water Board Directors.

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