AMR for distribution system leak detection

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Conference: Metering, Billing/CIS America
Location: San Diego, CA, USA
Presenter: David Hughes
Abstract: Presented by David Hughes at Metering, Billing/CIS America

Automatic meter reading is finally penetrating the very large water industry market in North American.  There have been a number of favorable changes in “making the business case” for water utility AMR in the last few years including a greater valuation of its role in improving customer service and increased reliability and longevity of equipment.   American Water has studied the business case for over a dozen years.  Thanks to combining technologies, American Water has broadened the cost equation for fixed network AMR by suggesting, piloting and researching ways to use the network to communicate distribution system information.   This presentation focuses on the impact of deploying an acoustic monitoring system to monitor leaks on fixed network AMR.   

Most utilities discover structural weakness in their aging distribution network through water main and service breaks.  While some breaks can be sudden and visible at the onset, most water losses are thought to be slow to develop and to become visible.  This tends to promote further damage to the pipe and its surrounding environment.  However, if leaks can be found and characterized quickly, damage and water loss from the failure will be limited and perhaps sufficiently controlled to become more tolerable. It is thought that immediate access to leaks as they start could provide significant insight into the dynamics of failure that will lead to an effective approach to pipe network management.  By deploying acoustic monitors that could report daily changes in minimal noise “heard” in the system through AMR technology, the potential for further reducing water loss has been realized.

The success of the project has manifested in several ways.  On a financial basis, the reduction of water lost through leaks has been realized.  Additionally, there is evidence that the cost of repairs through early identification of leaks before they come to the surface.  These benefits should combine to alter the equation for the AMR business case in many leaky water systems.  On a research basis, we have learned that many leaks do run without surfacing for extended periods of time.  Acoustic data suggests that leaks can “grow” with time.  With the monitoring data, the start of many leaks can be pinpointed and there has been a correlation to the start of leaks and sudden changes in water temperature.  Finally the added information about leaks can contribute to the identification of customer service leaks, metered and unmetered, that can save the utility and the customer.