Tech Perspectives: Remote Shutoff Capabilities Help Make Water Utilities More Resilient

By Trey Overman

Many factors come into play that help make water utilities and the communities they serve more resilient. Using the right technology, they can enhance service, create operational efficiencies and improve their bottom line. All through the careful and remotely managed flow of water.

Utilities using smart water meters with remote shutoff capabilities identify near real-time data and provide more timely responses to customers than those with manual shutoff functions. This empowers resilience in the communities they serve.

Benefits of Remote Shutoff Capabilities

Utilities are businesses focused on best serving their communities, while also optimizing efficiency and revenue. Sensus, a Xylem brand, developed the ally residential water meter to help utilities do just that. These meters, paired with the Sensus FlexNet communication network, allow service providers to remotely turn on and off the water or reduce the flow. They can also monitor pressure and temperature and detect leaks – all from their desk at work. This means utilities can quickly stop water flow, if required, to reduce water loss. It can also lessen the need for leak forgiveness applications and minimize debt collection efforts.

The financial and operational benefits of remote shutoff applications don’t stop there. Remote control, rather than on-site crew deployment, is estimated to save about $50 per avoided truck roll and can extend the life of fleet vehicles. Costs are further decreased with fewer customer work orders thanks to proactive issue detection.

Quality customer service is always of paramount importance. Smart meters’ automated alerts allow water utilities to promptly identify leaks and service interruptions, helping customers before they even know they need it. In less than 10 minutes, utilities can turn service on or off. This technology-enabled action helps utilities manage the moving in and out of residents or businesses. It can also be used to gather the right data to address leaks and prevent property damage.

More from Trey Overman: Historic Winter Weather Puts Smart Water to the Test

Another unique feature of ally’s stainless steel three-state valve is the reduced-flow option. Water service providers can tap into this feature when customers are delinquent but still need access to water for dietary and hygienic needs. This approach not only prioritizes customers’ well-being, but typically results in quick payment, approximately 95 percent of outstanding bills get paid within two days according to data from utilities.

Service providers are also responsible for mitigating risk for their staff. Remote shutoff capabilities help keep crews out of potentially dangerous situations with an unhappy customer or aggressive pet, reducing the potential for work-related injury. 

Worth the Investment

Some utilities around the country tout the benefits of their investment in smart water technology based on the remote shutoff application alone. One Oklahoma utility in a transient military community used the feature to conduct an average of 1,000 shutoffs per month. The FlexNet system and ally residential meter saved staff time, resulted in fewer truck rolls and improved operations. The result? A savings of up to $1.8 million in a single year.

Beyond creating better maintenance and business practices, remote shutoff allows quick responses that result in resilient outcomes during emergencies. A municipality in Texas said its investment in a smart water system with remote shutoff paid off in a single day when the state experienced a deep freeze in February 2021. Water pipes froze and burst. Effected residents who were not home could have faced major water damage. However, the municipality used its ally meters to monitor pressure and pinpoint leaks in a matter of hours – an effort that may have taken three weeks to do manually. Crews avoided hazardous conditions because they could halt water flow remotely. The municipality attributes its timely response to its system’s pressure sensor and remote shutoff capabilities.

Technology Empowers New Possibilities

This smart water technology has spurred more efficiency in day-to-day maintenance like flushing a water distribution system. Rather than use manual or timed devices, a municipality in Georgia remotely opens and closes the meter valves to flush specific lines to avoid stale water. Maintaining remotely-managed water quality is now a possibility.

The benefits of this digital technology abound with customer service improvements, crew efficiencies and fiscal responsibility.  Remote shutoff provides resilient solutions for utilities no matter what lies ahead.

Trey Overman is the director of global residential water product management at Sensus, a Xylem brand. He has four years of experience in the water industry and holds undergraduate degrees from Appalachian State University and an MBA from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 

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