Upgrading aging infrastructure is a priority for water utilities as they continually strive to deliver high-quality water to their customers. The transition to smart metering technology is a key part of the improvement plan, as it drastically reduces water waste and improves billing accuracy.
Two types of newer technologies commonly found in the water industry today are that of automated meter reading (AMR) and advanced metering infrastructure (AMI). While both optimize the process of collecting water use information, AMI metering technology offers a complete network solution for greater efficiency in all types of environments.
A Closer Look at AMR
AMR technology allows the automatic collection of water consumption, diagnostic, and status data. AMR meters send readings to the utility company via one-way communication with a hand-held data collection device. However, the device does not have the capability to send commands back to the meter.
While AMR automates the data collection task, it still requires utility personnel to be in proximity to the meter by either walking or driving to its physical location. This requirement to “roll trucks” significantly increases the utility’s risk profile. After the on site collection, the data from the device is transferred into a database where the utility company monitors and analyzes water use, troubleshoots any issues, and produces the customer’s billing based on actual consumption.
AMR systems are more efficient than manual meter reading. However, they are still very staff dependent and aren’t able to fully eliminate the common issues of non-revenue waste, leaks, and billing errors.
AMI Metering Eliminates Waste, Minimizes Risk and Cuts Costs
AMI refers to an integrated network of water meters, communication networks, sensors, and, meter interface units that are used for real-time water flow monitoring. Specially designed smart or ultrasonic meters are used in AMI applications and are often installed as upgrades to the older, manually read meters.
The smart AMI meter transmits data directly to and from the utilities, where it’s processed and analyzed for customer billing and consumption feedback. The automatic bidirectional transmission eliminates the need for utility personnel to be at the customer’s location. Smart AMI meters can also be used to remotely connect and disconnect services, detect tampering, and monitor outages.
Ultrasonic meters are also found in some AMI applications. As the name implies, these meters use ultrasonic technology to measure fluid velocity through water pipes. It uses sound wave frequencies reflected from gas bubbles or particles to determine flow rates.
The AMI meter is located at the customer’s location and measures the flow of water, which is sent to the meter interface unit (MIU). After receiving the signal from the meter, the MIU converts it to a flow value, stores it, and then wirelessly transmits this data to the utilities’ information management system.
Benefits of AMI
The AMI water meter network offers the following benefits to both utility operations and customers.
- Transmits real-time data to guide customers on their use.
- Catches potential high consumption before the customer is billed.
- Improves billing and allows customer inquiries to be resolved with real-time data. When a customer calls about a high water bill, the representative can give a detailed description of their water use.
- Decreases non-revenue water through earlier leak detection. This enables crews to be proactive in repairs before a small leak becomes a burst pipe.
- Decreased utility risk and virtually eliminates fuel consumption from fewer vehicles in the field for meter reading.
- Provides information on the condition of underground water distribution systems for efficient resource allocation.
- Detects non-communication issues, meter errors, and tampering.
- Automates backflows.
Utilities serving populations of all sizes can utilize AMI meter solutions to realize the above benefits. The system uses existing cellular networks for data transmission for utilities of any size and location.
While AMI metering requires an upgrade to smart meters capable of two-way communication, they can be installed as part of a community-wide upgrade project. This enables utility companies to upgrade the meters over time, giving priority to those areas that have ongoing water waste or low pressure issues.
When AMR May Be More Practical than AMI Meter Systems
Despite the many benefits AMI technology brings to consumers and utilities, there may be times that their installation just isn’t practical. Cost is a major factor since a new infrastructure may be required. As a result, small towns and cities may not find it economically feasible for such a major upgrade. In these cases, adapting AMR may be a wiser choice. Adding AMR to existing meters that are still in good working condition can be a cost-effective alternative for real-time consumption reporting.
For more information on how an AMI infrastructure can optimize your water utility needs, contact Envocore to request a proposal today.