Traditionally, AMR systems were used mainly for billing data acquisition. The introduction of wireless technologies and the development of fixed network solutions have changed the way utility companies are using these systems. The ability to collect real-time data facilitated a variety of new applications where customer consumption information is profiled and analysed using sophisticated data base management applications.
The ability to create added value from a fixed network AMR system is an important factor in the cost justification of such systems, as simple meter reading for the purpose of billing does not usually in itself provide sufficient cost savings.
Miltel Communications' SpeedRead system includes software algorithms that have been incorporated within each level of the system architecture, from the transmitter to the concentrator to the control centre. This software enables the utility to receive alerts regarding system events, to analyse historical data, create consumption profiles, and much more.
A wide range of alerts is provided by the SpeedRead system. Some alerts are generated by the transmitter, others by the concentrator, and still others by the SpeedNet control centre software. Once an alert has been received, substantial system data is available to further analyse the alert and determine a course of action.
Presented below are a number of examples from Miltel installations that demonstrate various aspects of the reporting and alert functions of the system.
Following a non-advancing meter alert generated by SpeedNet, consumption data for that meter was analysed. The chart in Figure 1 was created from SpeedNet data. Initially, daily consumption figures showed average consumption of 35 cubic metres per day. Thereafter, consumption dropped to zero, indicating one of three possibilities:
- Consumer not in residence
- Transmitter/meter connection problem
- Utility meter issue (requiring repair or replacement)
A telephone call confirmed that the consumer had been in residence, and a field technician was dispatched to evaluate the water meter status. Since no other alerts were received from the system (such as tampering or cable disconnect) the most likely explanation was that the meter had ceased to advance.
The significance here was that the utility was able to set its own alert parameters regarding the number of days that must elapse, and the minimum consumption that should be recorded, before a meter is considered to be non-advancing. The system enabled the utility to identify a non-advancing meter in a matter of days, and not in the average of 1½ billing periods. The aggregate savings can be substantial, as the resulting customer enquiries and possible disputes are eliminated; there is no need for billing write-downs or for management time to be spent on such issues.
In another installation, SpeedNet detected a major leak. In this example, just days after a meter was connected, an alert was received. The meter (in a shop with private residence) was reporting average daily consumption in excess of 31 cubic metres per day! After the system alerted the utility to the situation, this massive consumer-side leak was repaired and daily consumption dropped immediately to an average of 185 litres per day. The annual saving from this one leak was at least 11,250 cubic metres!!
The graph in Figure 2 was created from SpeedNet control centre software data on this event:
Often, after months of consumption at this level, the resulting utility bill would lead to a consumer enquiry and dispute. The result: a compromise with the consumer – with a significant write-down of the utility bill (and loss of revenue).
The prior example was an instance of a major leak that was discovered by the system. The Miltel system can also determine slow leaks. Such leaks can be determined at the transmitter level, generating a suspected leakage alert. Slow leaks can also be determined by the control centre software, where detailed data can be charted. By notifying its consumers of suspected leakage, the utility provides an important service to its customers. The utility receives the additional benefit of reduced consumer inquiries. The chart in Figure 3 shows meter consumption over an eight-day period, where meter readings were taken every hour. From this chart, it is clear that consumption never drops below 20 litres per hour, even in the middle of the night when consumption should be zero.
The transmitter had detected a continuous “Night Flow” and had provided a suspected leakage alert as a part of its standard periodic transmission of meter data. The SpeedNet control centre provided the tools for a much more detailed analysis, as shown in Figure 3.
Collecting data on an hourly basis is one of many transmitter options for measuring “night flow”. The previous example resulted in additional annual consumption of 175 cubic metres. When multiplied by the number of other consumers with similar slow leaks, the impact upon the utility's resources can be significant. With proper system monitoring through the control centre, these types of slow leak can be identified automatically within a very short time-frame.
These are but a few of the examples of benefits that can be realised from fixed network AMR systems. By implementing systems that can provide comprehensive consumption management, utilities can realise added value, helping to further justify the capital investment and on-going operational costs.
In addition to leak detection and non-advancing meters, additional areas in which savings and other benefits can be realised include:
- Meter reading costs (scheduled and non-scheduled)
- Customer support services
- Consumer profiling
- Pipe bursts
- Water conservation
- Meter sizing
- Unaccounted-for water usage
- Data services for commercial customers.
As can be seen from the few examples provided above, Miltel's fixed network AMR can generate real and measurable savings – added value – for utilities.