The Future of Water

Water utility executives are at the front line of a dramatic shift in water management as a global water shortage forces the industry to reevaluate water conservation strategies. They are responsible for educating their consumers about water conservation and implementing intelligent water management systems that will monitor customer water usage and protect the water resources for years to come.

Water utilities seek solutions to conserve water while simultaneously meeting customer service needs and providing a speedy return on investment. In order to meet these goals, water utilities are investing in intelligent water management systems, which are proven to help utilities meet these goals in part by quickly detecting leaks and previously unaccounted for low flow water usage.

Kennebec Implements AMI/Smart Meters

Consider Kennebec Water District (KWD) in Maine. As the first water district in the country, and one of the first water utilities to introduce automated meter reading (AMR) technology to its customers, KWD has shown their willingness to embrace new technologies to meet the needs of customers, the district and the environment.

KWD is a quasi-municipal corporation serving a population of 22,500 with more than 1.2 billion gallons of water each year. After recognizing a need for improved operational efficiency and meter reading capabilities, KWD chose to implement a fixed-base, Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) system designed to drive efficiency through two-way communications. KWD also began replacing existing bronze-body meters with lead-free, smart water meters made of composite materials.

KWD immediately began to see customer service improvements and increased operational efficiency from remote meter reads taken four times per day as well as any time requested on-demand reads. In addition, the system is configured to automatically issue a ?red flag? alert, triggered when water usage is high or out of the ordinary. By automating visibility into potential problems, KWD can identify leaks in real time, whether it is a minor leak signified by continuous usage or a disastrous leak marked by a large spike in water usage.
Mike O?Brien, KWD customer service manager, described one instance of an excessive amount of water being used in a customer?s home. ?Before installing the AMI system, we would not have known what was happening,? O?Brien said. ?But with the system, we were alerted to abnormal hourly usage data and the customer had what turned out to be a leaky toilet resulting in the loss of hundreds of cubic feet of water.?

This type of water waste occurs daily for water utility customers nationwide. With traditional walk-by or drive-by meter reading systems, this type of leak might take months or even years to be discovered. With an AMI system, it was discovered within just a few hours and quickly repaired.

AMI, Smart Meters Critical For Leak Detection

As water utilities seek new options to conserve water and mitigate the rising costs of labor and energy, smart water meters are a critical component of intelligent water management. When KWD chose to implement an AMI system, they made the strategic decision to install endpoint transmitters on previously existing meters while also beginning a program to replace existing bronze-body legacy meters with Sensus iPERL no-lead, high accuracy water meters.

In addition to significant technological advancements in AMI systems, new metering technologies are enabling more precise leak detection and long term accuracy, providing an intelligent water management system rather than just a meter.

Remanent field technology, a new technology for magnetic flow meters, also permits unprecedented accuracy, even at intermittent or very low flows, for enhanced leak detection. This technology requires far less energy than traditional magnetic meters while simultaneously permitting greater measurement accuracy. One example of remanent field technology is the Sensus iPERL meter, which will replace the legacy meters for Kennebec over the next 10 years.

Remanent field technology holds magnetic field strength without requiring continual battery current consumption. It also keeps electrical noise low, enabling accurate measurement of low water flows and delivering intelligence to help utilities quickly detect very low flow leaks. These minor leaks, responsible for significant silent water waste, can now be detected for quick repair. The Sensus iPERL meter also offers a sophisticated suite of alarms which can detect reverse flow, tampering, empty pipes and leaks.

Water Conservation and Cost Saving

Water utilities are learning quickly about the water conservation and cost benefits of AMI systems. The potential for a speedy return on investment in an AMI system is driven by savings associated with removing trucks and meter reading teams from the road. However, water utilities should not overlook the combined water conservation and cost-saving possibilities of smart water meters.

New metering technologies such as those built with remanent field technology have zero or few moving parts, enabling a lower total cost of ownership including the cost to install, operate and maintain meters. Fewer moving parts also mean less long term wear and tear, along with more accurate billing for the service life of the meter.

The ability to capture higher and lower water flows make smart water meters a valuable tool for detecting leaks. From extremely low flow water usage that may have previously unaccounted for, to accurately measuring high flow water usage, new water metering technologies enable water utilities to accurately bill their customers and fully capture revenue benefits.

Therefore, new metering technologies do not require utilities to sacrifice revenue for the sake of water conservation. Instead, these meters simultaneously enable water conservation and cost benefits to the utility.

Looking Ahead

From the business health of utilities to our global health for years to come, leak detection is an important issue that should be a top priority for utilities. Leak detection technology offers the potential to save millions of gallons of water. It is also accessible technology to support water conservation made available to all utilities that choose to invest in an intelligent water management system.

With the growing water scarcity crisis, water utilities are met with more challenges and opportunities than ever before. Leak detection should be a top priority for utilities, but AMI and smart meters also enable other water conservation initiatives, such as online customer usage portals and tiered pricing systems. Combined with leak detection efforts, these initiatives empower water utilities and their customers to enjoy free flowing water today, tomorrow and for years to come.

Doug McCall is a Marketing Director for Sensus. He is responsible for marketing and business development for all Sensus water smart grid and AMI solutions. Joining Sensus in 2002, Doug has over 15 years of experience in the smart grid sector for water, gas and electricity utilities. He previously held positions at Elster Electricity Metering (formerly ABB) and the Nuclear Fuels Division of General Electric. Doug holds a Bachelor of Science in Engineering from North Carolina State University.

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