Water utilities can now embrace the power of AMI


Over the last two decades, water utilities have improved business operations and customer service by automating meter reading for billing, yet the water industry has not fully leveraged state of the art metering technology to enable consumers to use resources wisely. Regulators and legislators in the US and abroad require electric utilities to begin using smart metering technology to address increasing global energy costs and shortages. As supplies of clean potable water are becoming increasingly scarce, the water industry is stepping up to engage in a similar commitment to customer usage efficiency through the use of advanced metering infrastructure (AMI). Evolution™ AMI brings this technology to water utilities worldwide.

Today, the predominant technology for water utilities to collect consumption data is automated meter reading (AMR). AMR technologies include inductive touch read, walk-by radio interrogation, mobile AMR and fixed network AMR. These systems have reduced overall meter reading costs and brought down the numbers of estimated bills, resulting in increased cash flows for water utilities. However, AMR does not have the flexibility to deliver a truly comprehensive water utility system solution that enables on-demand meter reading, variable pricing options, integration with information systems, and self-monitoring and consumption alerts for customers.

For water utilities to offer these services they must embrace an AMI solution that has smart metering capabilities. Service efficiency and cost savings offered by smart metering are possible by pairing meter-related technologies with a solid communication infrastructure capable of relaying readings and alarms from the field back to corporate information systems at any time, and allowing off-site staff to supervise entire networks remotely.

The challenges of bringing AMI to water

A major hurdle for an efficient AMI solution is choosing a communications technology that provides ultra-low-power consumption, long battery life, reliable long-range communications, flexibility to connect with wide area networks (WAN), and is cost effective. Unfortunately, the major existing wireless communications options do not offer a solution. While WiFi provides acceptable range and interconnectivity, it consumes too much power to attain the required multi-year battery life.

ZigBee/IEEE802.15.4 provides some of the necessary key features for mesh network operation, but it has shortcomings that preclude its usage in large-scale utility metering networks. Due to its low link budget, ZigBee lacks the range necessary to meet the needs of rural or less dense areas, leading to higher infrastructure costs. Network capabilities and design are critical when creating AMI solutions for the water industry.

For example, the network must be flexible enough to adapt to rural and urban scenarios and pit, indoor, or outdoor environments that are usually present in most of North America’s 55,000-plus water utilities, and around the world. The network needs to be reliable and robust against physical and electronic interference in order to ensure the on-time delivery of critical data to the utility using advanced wireless communications technologies.

Meeting the market demand for an AMI solution

To meet the smart metering needs of water utilities worldwide, Elster developed Evolution AMI, a solutions-based system powered by Wavenis technology. Designed and developed by Coronis Systems, Wavenis technology fits perfectly with Elster’s vision of providing an end-to-end communication platform from wireless-enabled utility meters to data collection tools and low cost network infrastructure. Wavenis is designed to meet the technological requirements for end-to-end AMI. By leveraging the best features from an existing ultra-low-power wireless communications system, Elster is able to offer water utilities the next leap in metering technology.

The power of Wavenis wireless technology

Wavenis was designed from the ground up as an ultra-lowpower wireless mesh networking solution, with the longrange connectivity and scalable deployment that is required for utility metering applications.

Commercial and industrial applications built using Wavenis-based mesh networking technology will realise operational benefits from both flexible long-range connections, and technical advantages such as self-configuring and self-healing networks, resulting in lower infrastructure and operational costs. Wavenis technology is used by industry leaders in machine-to-machine (M2M) automated monitoring, industrial, radio frequency identification (RFID), home comfort, and healthcare applications. Over 1.2 million Wavenis-based products are deployed around the world. The functional requirements for ultra-low-power consumption, data volume, and long wireless range in these markets are essentially the same as for utility metering.

The technology enables a network price point that is appropriate for large and smallscale deployments while also maintaining controls on infrastructure and administrative network costs to keep an AMI solution within the financial reach of any water utility. Mesh network topology, a concept that is not new to wireless communications, provides the optimal solution for deployment in dense urban environments and rural scenarios. The Wavenis mesh network technology is the only mature solution on the market that can handle the evolution in the metering industry, from walk-by to drive-by to fully remote applications.

The benefits of Evolution AMI Evolution

AMI provides the benefits of a mesh network topology, including self-installation and self-healing, extended radio coverage, non-mandatory line-of-site operation, and easy system scalability.

For competitive performance in the field, it offers the added benefits of long-range capabilities for hard-to-reach environments, combined with an operating life of 20 years, two-way communications directly to the radio transceiver module (RTM) mounted on meters, and secure and reliable transmissions using frequency hopping spread spectrum (FHSS) in licence-free industrial, scientific and medical (ISM) bands around the world. Several connectivity options to the WAN for data backhaul and remote network monitoring are available that make it a complete solution at a competitive price that is within the budget of any size utility.

Empowering water utilities and their customers

Evolution AMI offers water utilities the benefits of timebased rates, in-home consumption monitoring for end users, remote valve actuation, on-demand consumption readings, and immediate notification of leaks, tampering, or backflow. To promote conservation, utilities can leverage Evolution AMI’s ability to generate usage data based on a particular time period, also known as time-based rates or time-of-use (TOU).

In addition, end users can now be informed of their water consumption in real time. With a Wavenis wireless connection to the water meter, Evolution AMI in-home user displays quickly and easily deliver a real-time picture of the user’s consumption. Evolution AMI goes one step further by empowering the water utility with remote valve actuation, simply and easily allowing the utility to shut off or decrease water pressure to a particular end user from the head end. This results in cost savings in both time and labour by not having to send personnel into the field.

As the water industry continues to advance and offer more efficiency, conservation and customer service, Elster continues to invest in cutting edge technology and metering intelligence to bring new strategies, innovations and services to its customers worldwide. Elster’s choice to deploy Wavenis technology represents a firm commitment to this direction. Evolution AMI is the first in a series of innovative solutions Elster is bringing to the water metering market.

Visit Elster at the AWWA conference, booth #1901, on June 24, 2007 in Toronto, Canada to find out more about Elster AMCO Water’s Evolution AMI.