Benefits of Upgrading Water Meter Reading Technology

In this blog, you’ll find out about different ways to read water meters and the benefits of migrating to newer reading technology:

Technology Background

Prior to universal metering most municipalities only had commercial properties metered. Residential customers were charged a flat rate per billing period for their water consumption. Over time utilities realized that if left un-metered, residents would have no incentive to conserve water as they had no concept how much they were using. Further, with flat rate billing, larger families in larger homes were paying the same amount per billing period for water use compared to neighbours with smaller homes and less usage. The concept of introducing water metering to all properties (universal metering) promoted fair and equitable billing to each premise owner regardless of size. We have seen rapid improvements in electronics and software in recent years. One need not look much further than computers, tablets, smart phones, and vehicles to see technology advancing at a rapid pace. The same can be said about water meters and reading systems.

Early Days of Water Meter Reading

Manual Meter Reading

The process involved reading water meters with direct-reading registers. This required entering the premise to manually observe the odometer reading. Data was typically recorded in journal books, with each book representing a route and each page a metered account. The history of each meter's consumption was listed on a separate page. However, this method was fraught with transcription and sequencing errors, both of which could lead to incorrect bills.

Remote Pulser Reading

Remote Pulser Reading is one of the earliest technology advancements to improve reading efficiency. This eliminated the need for meter readers to enter buildings to obtain the reading, a very time-consuming task, and one that would generate numerous work orders related to no access. The concept was simple, the odometer register would send an electrical pulse over a two-conductor wire to a remote odometer mounted on the outside of the building. As time passed this technology revealed flaws resulting in discrepancies between inside and outside odometer readings which became a customer service nightmare.

Major Milestones in Reading Technology

Remote Touchpad Reading

Remote touchpad reading was made possible because of the introduction of encoder register technology. It allowed for an exact read match from the inside register through a wire to the outside touchpad. The driver for touchpad technology was to address the shortcomings of the remote pulser era. This is about the same time that handhelds were introduced to help with route management and to record water meter readings eliminating the use of pen and paper.

Radio Frequency (RF) Reading

Radio frequency (RF) reading is probably the most dramatic technology upgrade in water meter history. With the advent of this technology meter readers were no longer required to step onto a property. Readings can be obtained safely from the sidewalk or roadway. This improves the safety and efficiency of collecting water meter readings. With RF reading technology meter readers can avoid slips and falls, dog bites and contact with aggressive premise owners.

Reading software

Understanding AMR versus AMI

As Radio Frequency (RF) transmitters started to replace touchpads, different reading technologies emerged. Today there are three main ways to read water meters:

Reading Method Communication Method Collection Hardware Type Read Interval Suitability Data Analysis Capability
Walk AMR Handheld Receiver Quarterly Minimum
Drive AMR Mobile Vehicle Receiver Bi-Monthly, Monthly Moderate
Fixed AMI Fixed Position Receiver(s) Monthly, Daily, Hourly Maximum

Automatic Meter Reading (AMR) is accomplished by walking or driving past water meters connected to RF transmitters with either and handheld or vehicle receiver. The RF endpoint transmits water consumption and alert flags related to flow characteristics. Mobile vehicle receivers have better antenna and noise filtering capability than a handheld receiver that allows more meters to be captured simultaneously and from a further distance away. Utilities can use the consumption data and alert flags to analyze and troubleshoot consumption and flow abnormalities. RF AMR water meter reading provides utilities an opportunity to measure consumption more frequently than quarterly and mitigate high bills because of un-investigated leaks.

Remote meter reader

Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) incorporates a communication network of strategically located receivers placed throughout the water meter population and a data management integration system that allows communication between the water meter endpoints and the utility through these fixed receivers. AMI does not require utility employees to travel out in the system and collect the data. In this configuration the network of receivers collects the endpoint data automatically at predetermined times. Utilities can now use monthly, daily, or even hourly data to monitor their meter system with extreme efficiency and accuracy. AMI systems provide a continuous stream of data to provide maximum visibility and control of the water meter system.

Technology Migration Path

As RF water meter endpoints are introduced into a water meter system, the utility can start with any of the above three reading collection technologies. A utility is not limited to one specific technology and can in fact mix collection methods including a hybrid of all three collection principles if they so choose. The radio should be the same unit and not require reprogramming to go from an AMR system to an AMI system. Collection method migration can occur all at once, timed with a meter replacement program, or over a period such as budgeting will allow.

Encoder Resolution & Advanced Capabilities

While being able to obtain water meter reads more frequently is an important advancement, equally import was the improvement in the resolution of the register odometer. From the very beginning of water meter register design, the best odometers would only record consumption to a half of a cubic metre of water at best. This resolution was sufficient for reading a meter quarterly but would have little meaning for daily or hourly reads as the consumption would likely not change enough to advance registration in that period. With the migration from six to eight-digit registers, consumption can now be measured down to a litre. Increased reading resolution paved the way for the capability of leak detection and hourly data logging of usage. Higher resolution encoders also introduced the ability for registers to transmit alerts for irregular consumption in addition to reverse and no-flow events along with the reading.

Benefits of Technology Migration

Here’s why you should think about your next move along the technology migration path:

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Contact an ESL representative how you can get started on your technology migration!

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