Launch Slideshow

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Instant Messaging

Instant Messaging

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    Advanced metering infrastructure costs about the same as mobile data-collection, says Project Manager Tony Lindgren of Tacoma Water in Washington, who's studying whether his department should upgrade to a fixed-network system to improve billing and leak detection. “Plus, when you have a fixed network, you can get the daily or hourly reads that benefit the system even more.” Photo: Tacoma (Wash.) Public Utilities

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    When zero water consumption is recorded over a 24-hour period, these Badger Meters Inc. transponders send a leak code to employee laptops equipped with radio-frequency receivers. Photo: The Consolidated Utility District of Rutherford County, Tenn.

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    Converting to a wireless system allowed the Zachary (La.) Public Works Department to bring meter-reading in-house, saving $75,000 annually. Photo: City of Zachary, La.

“We have an obligation to our customers to be very mindful of our natural resource and we can't just continue to waste it,” Poulsen says. “If the tools are out there, it's worth doing.”

Since testing Itron Inc. technology in a 12-month pilot project from 2005 through 2006, the district has installed 26,000 new system-compatible meters through a meter-exchange program. Interface units connected to the meters transmit readings to several receiver-transmitters deployed in fixed locations. Poulsen says the signal strength of the upgraded radio units is almost 1,000 times more powerful than the district's old mobile collection system.

Initially, cellular data (data can also be sent via Ethernet or radio) was sent to a dedicated Web site hosted by Itron. Eventually, the district set up its own servers to run Itron's Enterprise Edition software. Managers can query which customers' water consumption exceeds a set limit when the temperature also exceeds a set limit, and track usage by various intervals.

“From that, we can develop a budget: If you live in this kind of environment and you have this number of people in your home, then here's about the average amount of water you should be using,” Poulsen says.

The leap in technological capability is not limited to ratepayer data. The network also detects leaks in service lines using sonic technology. “This fixed network moves from being a meter reader to becoming a pressure recorder, a solenoid valve that can shut off a customer's valve automatically,” he says.

Poulsen also looks forward to having access to usage data.

“Besides sending a signal out every four hours, the network will also send back 24-hour incremental data. I can get a snapshot of water consumption from midnight to midnight. Now I get a daily water loss report: what was metered and what was produced. You can break that down per pressure zone and identify which zones are losing more water than other zones. It basically turns it into a modeling tool for water-production systems.”

The total implementation cost for the system is projected at about $15 million, not counting the district's own labor and maintenance.