Aclara Supports Fight Against Drought with AMI, Leak Detection Technologies

After five punishing years, drought conditions have reached critical mass in California and much of the western United States, with Golden State utilities scrambling to meet government mandates for 25 percent reductions in water usage.

Aclara is helping to lead the fight against the drought with solutions that give utilities the tools they need to control water use and find leaks both inside and outside homes.

?Utilities in California are looking hard at using technology to control water use,? said Allan Connolly, president and CEO of Aclara. ?When smart systems like Aclara?s are installed on water meters, utilities better understand where and how water is used. They have the information they need to help consumers reduce their usage in accordance with conservation mandates.?

?What?s more, in many communities, 10 to 30 percent of water pumped into distribution systems is lost due to leaks before it even reaches the customer. From an environmental perspective, this situation wastes a great deal of water and contributes to what utilities call ?non-revenue water.? Aclara systems can detect and locate small underground leaks before they become major problems,? added Connolly.

San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) is one of the largest utilities in the California to install Aclara?s STAR network for reading meters hourly. The data collected from the city?s 180,000 meters by Aclara?s two-way fixed network powers the utility?s system for letting customers track usage online. Aclara also generates a report that allows the utility to identify customers who may have leaks inside their homes.

?The Aclara report tells us which accounts have exhibited continuous usage every hour over a three-day reporting period each week,? said Heather Pohl, automated water meter program manager for SFPUC. ?We filter that report for single-family homes and analyze it to identify the minimum usage for each account. This process allows us to gauge the severity of the suspected leak.?

The utility reaches out to those who show up on the report by sending weekly postcards notifying them of a possible leak. It monitors the reports and notes which accounts have come off the list, assuming that they have responded to the utility?s notice and fixed the leak. Future enhancements to the report may benefit commercial customers and those owning multifamily residences such as apartment buildings.

In addition to analyzing meter readings to identify potential leaks, most of Aclara?s California customers are looking hard at installing its STAR ZoneScan system, which allows utilities to pinpoint underground leaks. Aclara has deployed the technology in a number of East Coast communities such as Sylacauga, Ala., which uses the system to find underground leaks that occur on hundreds of miles of galvanized service lines and cast-iron pipes.

?This type of pipe, some of which was installed as early as 1906, is more likely than others to leak because of corrosion,? said Mike McGinnis, superintendent of water in Sylacauga. ?In a half-mile radius we might find six leaks. Everyplace we have installed the system we have found leaks that we can repair.?
The Aclara STAR ZoneScan system was one of the tools that helped Sylacauga reduce its non-revenue water losses from about 34 percent to 23 percent.

STAR ZoneScan automates the collection, retrieval and analysis of acoustic data gathered throughout the water system. Its leak-intelligence devices ? highly sensitive acoustic data loggers ? are deployed at regular intervals on valves throughout the water-distribution network. The devices record vibrations in the quiet early hours when factors such as traffic that affect leak noise are minimized. The system transmits recorded sounds to the utility via Aclara?s two-way fixed network, where the acoustic data is analyzed and automatically correlated to identify potential leak locations.

The leak-detection system provides critical information with only minimal operator involvement. Once the units are installed, operators can monitor the system and analyze results at the utility office. No manual or drive-by data collection is required. The system can be deployed stand-alone or added on to an existing STAR network AMI system.

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