Asset Maintenance Simplified

SUEZ Offering New Approach for Small- and Mid-Sized Utilities to Finance and Maintain Metering Assets

water meter cover

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, roughly 97 percent of the more than 151,000 public water systems in the country are considered “small” systems (by definition, serving 10,000 customers or fewer). Interestingly, these systems serve a relatively small percentage of the total population.

But making improvements to aging water and wastewater systems, particularly small ones, can be even more difficult as smaller systems often lack the capital reserves, staff or other resources of a large system. Small systems can also lack technical and project management expertise. There are agencies and organizations that provide support to small systems, but ultimately their ability to achieve and maintain system sustainability can be a challenge. Even with sound fiscal planning and financial management, small systems can struggle to find viable solutions to address their needs in the current climate of decreasing local budgets and demanding regulatory requirements. In many ways, technology such as real-time monitoring systems and predictive analytics are helping to ease these difficulties across the water sector.

SUEZ North America, a subsidiary of SUEZ, one of the largest companies operating globally in the sector, is offering some new solutions to assist small- to mid-sized utilities looking to implement certain assets that they otherwise might have difficulty installing, maintaining or paying for on their own.

The Advanced Solutions Division of SUEZ North America, the leader in Asset Management, provides rehabilitation and maintenance services for water distribution and wastewater collection systems.

Andre Noel, director of revenue management and metering services for SUEZ North America, says asset management focuses specifically on small and mid-sized utilities that need assistance.
Under the Asset Management Program, SUEZ partners with utilities to provide technology and asset maintenance services, while spreading the cost associated with those services over time.

“With the regular maintenance of the asset combined with our spreading of the associated costs over time to our clients under an annual fixed cost, there are no surprises. For example, if an asset starts to fail, the utility doesn’t need to invest time, money and resources in it, because SUEZ is already proactively taking care of it through the program,” Noel explains.

SUEZ offers these sustainable asset management solutions for different types of assets including water wells, storage tanks, treatment plants and distribution networks. It also provides advanced and specialized technologies such as ice pigging, water mixing systems, THM removal systems, residual control systems, and trenchless spray-in-place pipe rehabilitation to help utilities optimize the use of their existing infrastructure.

Recently, the company expanded its asset management program to metering and AMI systems. According to Noel, the offering has been successful due to the growing demand for more efficient metering approaches across small and mid-size utilities and the network management that comes with smart metering systems.

The Business Case for AMI

Noel notes that water utilities, regardless of size, need data from meters for billing. To apply the analogy often used in the industry, water meters act as the cash registers – the point at which a product or service is quantified and purchased.

Water utilities also use meter data for other important purposes. For example, a major consideration for water utilities today is non-revenue water, or water that cannot be billed because it is lost before it reaches customers through leaks, theft, inaccurate metering or other means. The American Water Works Association (AWWA) encourages utilities to audit for non-revenue water, but audits are only as good as the data on which they are based. An AMI system, for example, can provide the data foundation for more accurate audits.

In addition, water customers are demanding better customer service and more information from their utilities on how they are using water. AMI technologies help provide utilities with the data necessary to help customers better manage their water use to save money and resources.

According to Noel, implementing an AMI system typically happens as the result of a specific occurrence at a utility, whether that be a major event or whether it be more common circumstances like aging meters that lead to billing being affected.

“In order for someone to justify an AMI system, there often has to be some kind of compelling event,” Noel says. And as he points out, a major consideration for utilities looking to implement new metering, is the cost and maintenance, in addition to the long-term return.

SUEZ Metering analysis

End users are demanding better customer service and more information from their utilities about their water usage.

Assisting Small- to Mid-Sized Utilities

Of course, utilities need to consider the long-term capital and operating expenses related to their meter-reading solutions. These expenses vary considerably depending on the method used — whether manually by meter readers, by mobile systems that wirelessly read devices from service vehicles, or via a fixed network that collects data automatically. As a result, it is imperative that utilities assess the return on investment, long-term expenses and benefits related to certain systems.

Enter SUEZ, whose approach aimed at filling this void and assisting the small to mid-sized market, where the resources may be lacking to fully integrate and optimize these systems.

“What we have found, especially in the small- to mid-sized utility market, is that they have invested in technology that they really don’t know much about or don’t have the resources to take care of,” Noel says. “Now they have these assets that they’re running to failure because they didn’t fully understand how intensive it was to maintain them.”

For an AMI system, for example, SUEZ will partner to develop an asset management program with the utility, design a system for that utility, implement it, and spread the cost over time to make it affordable and maintain the system all the way down to the meter. Noel says from the installation of assets to what exactly SUEZ will manage can be tailored to the utility’s needs. He also adds that due to SUEZ ’s market strength and strong relationships with meter manufacturers and AMI solution providers – it is able to better customize any technology to a utility’s needs.

“With our asset management program, customers can enjoy all the benefits of the system without having to worry about the resources to maintain it. With small to mid-sized utilities, the specialized meter maintenance and meter reader workforce are retiring with few to no resources to fill these roles,” he says. SUEZ takes responsibility for maintaining the system, including water meter, endpoints, fixed network and software upgrades. To assist with the operation, SUEZ has more than 20 service centers that provide crews, equipment and coordinate all the maintenance. “With SUEZ’s asset management program, a critical function for any utility, namely metering is taken care of,” concludes Noel.

Andrew Farr is the managing editor of Water Finance & Management, published by Benjamin Media. He has covered the water sector in North America for eight years and also covers the North American trenchless construction industry for sister publications Trenchless Technology and NASTT’s Trenchless Today.

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