By David R. Morris and Steve Rudd
Smart technology has been around for a long time and continues to become more sophisticated and user-friendly. Yet most American utility companies are still catching up to move to smart metering as a way to save costs, improve customer service and increase efficiencies at all levels. Some forward-thinking companies and municipalities, however, have made modernization of their systems a priority and have begun to enjoy the many advantages of smart resource management.
One recent example is the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority (Water Authority) which, working with Utility Partners of America (UPA), recently connected approximately 50,000 Albuquerque homes and businesses to a smart water management infrastructure.
Smart water meters, like electric and gas meters equipped with similar technology, allow customers to see in real-time exactly how much water they consume and use this information to actively manage and reduce their daily usage and save on their water bill. The technology also allows utilities to remotely review consumption levels across their service area, assisting with conservation and billing and identifying and repairing leaks before they become significant problems.
The state of New Mexico has the lowest water-to-land ratio of all 50 states, and water conservation is of the utmost importance year-round. The Water Authority, which covers approximately 350 square miles and serves a population of 670,000, manages about 200,000 residential water meter connections and 850 commercial customers in the metro area.
Working with UPA, the Water Authority completed the initial phases of installation five months ahead of schedule. As a result of the project, the utility has already experienced several very positive outcomes:
- Better leak detection: Several severe leaks and a number of defective meters have been discovered and repaired since the start of the program, saving Albuquerque residents thousands of gallons of water - and thousands of dollars.
- Quick field response: Managers and field crews receive alerts and data on mobile devices, resulting in quicker response times. The new system uses real-time AMI communications technology to adjust water pressure in specified sectors of the system according to time of day, thus reducing strain on pipes. To identify system leaks, virtual metering allows engineers to analyze the difference between how much water customers are using in a given area versus how much water is being pumped.
- Reallocation of crew resources: By redeploying some personnel previously focused on meter reading to field service positions, the Water Authority is maximizing its resources.
- Enhanced fine collection: Since March 2013, the smart water meter installation has resulted in the collection of more than $30,000 in fines for illegal turn-ons after the water has been shut off for non-payment.
For its efforts to improve customer service through the use of smart technology, the Water Authority was recently awarded the "Expanding Excellence Award" in the Best Smart Infrastructure category by CS Week.
Given that the Water Authority is already seeing positive results, expectations among utility managers are that expanded adoption of this technology will have an immense impact on the organization's long-term ability to operate at peak efficiency while helping customers identify usage patterns and leaks in order to maximize conservation.
About the Authors: David R. Morris has worked as the public affairs manager for Albuquerque's Water Authority for the past six years. He is a former journalist and has a master's degree in public policy from the University of Texas at Austin. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Steve Rudd is the director of business development for Utility Partners of America. He can be reached at SRudd@utilitypartners.com. Circle No. 243 on Reader Service Card