More than Just a Good Read

Water utility managers today have an often unenviable task: make the most of the assets they have to offset rising operational costs, both in the short and long terms. The key is water efficiency. In addition to the obvious, the resource itself, ?water efficiency? speaks as well to wise management of infrastructure, energy, revenue and more.

Collecting meter readings is necessary ? but not sufficient ? to meet modern water utility requirements. In fact, water efficiency has become so important that many states across the country are adopting new American Water Works Association (AWWA) standards for water auditing. Non-revenue water (NRW) can only be reduced when a utility addresses losses beyond physical distribution line leaks, such as unauthorized usage and inaccurate metering. Detecting leak, tamper and reverse flow events, as well as collecting usage profile data on customer accounts, has become just as critical to a water utility as basic meter reading. As a result, automatic meter reading (AMR) and advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) systems have never been more important.

Actionable Figures: It Comes Down to the Right Info

To provide the kinds of data necessary to take action, a utility?s AMR or AMI system should at least use meters reading resolution of 1/10 of a gallon. That?s because meter resolution measured in tens or hundreds of gallons will typically miss the smaller water amounts that add up to become significant leak, tamper and reverse flow events. For instance, Neptune?s E-Coder solid state absolute encoder provides advanced eight-digit resolution down to 1/10 of a gallon that allows identification of leaks that lower resolution encoders might overlook.

Now, utilities can monitor consumption and differentiate between intermittent and continuous leak conditions, thanks to newer, electronic solid state registers. Analyzing usage within the register itself, they divide a 24-hour day into 96 intervals of 15-minute data. Rather than inundate the AMR or AMI system with millions or billions of meter readings, these registers mark these conditions with flags updated every 15 minutes. This provides timely intelligence at the point of consumption. Today?s electronic registers can also help identify and flag small leaks. They may seem insignificant, but a significant volume of water can be saved by catching them early.

Using either Neptune?s R900 System or R450 System, a utility can extract detailed usage data from the E-Coder to provide water consumption information for its accounts. In the R900 System, Neptune?s solid-state E-Coder R900i combination encoder/radio frequency meter interface unit (RF MIU) provides data logging capability for a rolling 96 days of hourly meter readings, plus leak and reverse flow flags. The E-Coder R900i records consumption as it happens, every hour, allowing utilities to prove when and how much usage occurred through usage pattern analysis. This historical consumption data can then generate consumption graphs within N-SIGHT R900 software for either daily or hourly consumption of individual accounts. ?

This kind of information can assist with the enforcement of odd- or even-day restrictions on water usage and other water efficiency programs. It can also be used to better inform customers of their water usage and encourage them to conserve more water, greatly reducing their water bills.

AMI, DMA and Data that Goes Deep

Like the R900 System, Neptune?s R450 System also helps to promote water efficiency efforts. It provides 24-hour customer usage profile data for every network customer, and its time-synchronized midnight meter readings enable utilities to compare water produced against water billed. In addition, utility managers can conduct District Metered Area (DMA) analyses within N-SIGHT R450 host software to help identify water losses. Furthermore,? similar accounts can be grouped together to compare overall consumption and consumption patterns ? such as franchise owners viewing the consumption differences among different locations and then taking appropriate actions. With each offering its own unique benefits, DMA analysis and consumption comparisons illustrate the value of advanced grouping tools. Grouping not only helps identify anomalies but also can assist with budgeting and planning by establishing a predictable baseline.

Increasingly, utilities are looking to enable their customers to view their own water consumption data directly, while tracking and managing their own usage. One tool that makes this possible is Neptune?s N-SIGHT IQ, an intelligent consumption data management and analytics application. The N-SIGHT IQ?s hourly, weekly and monthly usage information also helps resolve or even eliminate high water bill complaints.

Doing More with the Tools at Hand

To maximize the efficiency of day-to-day operations while helping offset declining revenues and rising costs, utilities are looking to do more with the systems and data they have. Beyond just conserving water, they want to conserve municipal infrastructure, energy and fuel, and existing investments in meter reading and billing technology. One way to do all this is to implement and expand upon a migratable meter reading and billing system. Utilities can accommodate new technology as needed, and simply add components without stranding their existing investments in metering hardware and software.

Data from Neptune meters and R900 RF MIUs can be captured by Neptune?s MRX920 mobile data collector as well as by Neptune?s latest-generation R900 Gateway v3 fixed network data collector. A utility employing fixed network data collectors can save system components, time and fuel. This can be done by reducing meter reading times; reducing and even eliminate truck rolls; and achieving daily or better meter readings and off-cycle readings for move-ins/move-outs.

The Gateway v3 enables migration from mobile to hybrid, or even to full fixed network. Designed to allow simple firmware updates without a site visit, it requires no costly field visits to reprogram R900s or change modes between mobile and fixed network operation. Should a cellular backhaul provider change, the Gateway itself will remain unaffected due to its multi-carrier CDMA/GSM cellular modem. In the event of a cellular backhaul outage, USB flash drive backup data retrieval ensures availability of crucial data to keep billing cycles going.

Conservation of financial and other resources goes further than calculating non-revenue water. Software complements hardware in these efforts, as exemplified by the cloud-based N-SIGHT IQ, which eliminates the need for utilities to invest in or manage additional servers or physical storage infrastructure. N-SIGHT IQ also makes it possible to store and analyze up to ten years of detailed consumption data, so utilities can better forecast and plan for the long term after identifying historic customer usage and comparison trends. It also makes it easy to communicate critical customer leak information and alerts in real time.

Water efficiency?s importance cannot be overestimated. For utilities to successfully navigate a tough economy amid rapid change, they must allocate resources better. The right AMR or AMI metering technology can assist them to manage personnel, finances and the savings that come from expanding on infrastructure investments already in the field.

Dave Hanes is the director of strategic marketing for Neptune Technology Group, based in Tallassee, Ala.

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