Smart meter data crucial for Texas utilities in post-storm repairs

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Texas-based water utilities managed to improve their storm recovery processes by levering real-time network operations data acquired from smart meters during the winter storm that hit the state in mid-February.

The storm left nearly 3.4 million energy customers in the Midwest, Texas and the South without electricity and approximately 7 million people in Texas without clean water due to broken water mains, burst pipes and power outages.

By leveraging data acquired from its advanced metering infrastructure, Arlington Water Utilities managed to identify some 1,800 private plumbing breaks. The data showed consumers’ high water and continuous usage than usual, prompting the utility to take action.

The utility also used data from smart meters to quickly restore services to some 4,800 apartment units at some 47 complexes who had no water after damages were made to their distribution lines. The distribution lines were either boken or bursted due to the cold weather and the after a precautionary boil water alert was lifted, property management would not turn the water back on until repairs were made.

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Craig M Cummings, director of Arlington Water Utilities, said: “The data helped us pinpoint customers in need of water.

“The City set up water container filling stations for apartment renters until repairs could be made, so the right data at the right time made a real difference.

“The data from our remotely managed network played a vital role in water department storm recovery.

“Customers calling in issues is no longer our only source of information. With the available meter data, we can identify locations with leaks and contact the customer.”

The smart meters used the FlexNet communication network developed by Sensus to send the data fast and securely.

Arlington Water Utilities senior programme analyst Matt Peters, adds: “Our Sensus FlexNet system allowed us to find potential problems before they led to outrageous damage or billing issues for customers.

“We actively reached out to customers by phone or in person to ensure there were no unattended water line breaks.”

City of Coppell and smart meters

The City of Coppell in Dallas also leveraged smart meter data to identify distribution leaks. In just one day, the city managed to shut off approximately 400 homes or businesses with leaks caused by the winter weather.

Coppell’s assistant director of public works Michael Garza, adds: “The FlexNet communication network is like having X-ray vision of your water system.

“We identified hundreds of leaks and knew exactly where to go to shut off water and help customers avoid further water loss or property damage.”

Coppell’s Assistant Director of Finance, Kim Tiehen, reiterated: “Even without power, we were able to locate and alert customers with leaks because the data is stored online at a remote location through Sensus Software as a Service.”

In moderate-climate regions such as Texas, days-long deep freezes like the one in February are not common. The infrastructure suffered under the intense cold and, as a consequence, power outages left homes without heat for days and water pipes with little or no insulation around them froze and burst.