Smart water meter: installation problems derail rollout in US city


Bay City smart water meters delayed by consumer resistanceA US municipal utility’s experience of installing smart water meters has highlighted stumbling blocks that water companies can face when deploying metering programmes.

Bay City, with a population of 35,000 in the US state of Michigan, admitted to local media last week that Bay City officials won’t finish installing new smart water meters for at least another eight to 12 months, overshooting a deadline of March 2015.

The municipal utility is being hamstrung by two issues – first, customers refusing access to their homes due to bad publicity, and second, the company contracted to carry out the installation withdrawing its services at the end of its contract as its work teams weren’t being utilized because of lack of access to customers’ residences.

Water meter installation problems

Greg Johnson, the city’s consultant for the smart meter program from North Carolina-based Katama Technologies, said the two issues stem from Bay City’s recent water billing situation and publicity of old pipes and valves breaking inside people’s homes during installations making residents apprehensive to allow crews to come in and perform the installation, reported

Mr Johnson said: “There was a long period of time where people were willing to let us come in and perform the installation, but when there were some bad experiences that were related to broken pipes or discrepancies with bills, then there was this groundswell of publicity.

“That has caused a lot of delays for us. We couldn’t get enough people to pony up and commit.”

Johnson said many customers were also resisting smart meters until the City Commission voted on a policy to give a reprieve to billing discrepancies discovered during installations.

Lack of installation employees

Bay City has already installed 10,705 to date and still has 4,000 customers still without a smart meter unit installed.

With the withdrawal of the installation contractor – Utility Partners of America (UPA) – four city employees are left to install the outstanding modules.

Johnson of Katama Technologies, however, is keen to downplay Bay City’s experiences of installing water meters.

Johnson, who has consulted municipalities on smart meter rollouts in nearly 30 different US states, said the issues plaguing Bay City’s rollout isn’t unusual.

He said: “Water is more complicated than electric, but these things can just take time.

“When water meters are in the basement of homes, there are just a lot of logistics. It’s the nature of the beast.”