AMR Update: The Sleeping Giant is Stirring

The water industry, by far the largest (in terms of the number of utility systems) of the three primary utilities in the United States, is shedding its reputation of avoiding that jump to the front of the technology line.

The water industry, by far the largest (in terms of the number of utility systems) of the three primary utilities in the United States, is shedding its reputation of avoiding that jump to the front of the technology line. Today’s water utilities are embracing some of the most innovative metering and meter reading tactics through Automatic Meter Reading (AMR) technology. To meet that need, industry suppliers are making AMR products available to utilities of all shapes, sizes and financial resources.

But increased exposure through the use of high technology means proactively addressing political, environmental, business and residential issues in the process. And AMR is helping to answer the call. North American water providers in 2004 spent more than $445 million on new AMR metering applications.

The water industry is faced with a number of issues, with one being increased security concerns after events fueled by the September 11th terrorist attacks. Water treatment facilities are identified as possible targets, making it necessary to increase the security infrastructure - and those measures hike water costs. Not surprising, AMR systems are being seen as part of the utility’s solution, not only to address meter reading issues, but also as a part of a water utility’s enterprise that can possibly help address other concerns like security.

Specifically, the use of an AMR fixed network system, which establishes a network infrastructure to remotely read AMR equipment in a designated area, can be used for non-water use, as well. The network can be used to initiate defense-monitoring enhancements in a community, adding a level of security and an extra justification for a utility trying to get AMR fixed network equipment into a municipal budget.

The industry is also gaining better control of water conservation through its infrastructure needs, and in the process delivering on the need to provide customers with information to assist them in joining the conservation effort. Challenges here include drought-prone areas, where conservation efforts are crucial in the utility’s ability to provide sufficient supply. The fixes include replacing older distribution lines to minimize lost water throughout the system, and replacing older meters with AMR versions that provide greater accuracy of actual water usage and enhanced usage information for both the utility and customer.

Industrial complexes are also employing sub-metering AMR applications to help increase accurate water usage tracking. The complexes are better able to gauge water use for individual tenants, making them more accountable for what they use - and waste. This knowledge and the subsequent appropriate corrective measures by the end user translate into better conservation by tenants, and better monitoring of usage and billing.

Utilities are also closely monitoring residential applications through the increased use of AMR technology, which can provide more data, more frequently. The increase in housing starts in larger suburban areas of the United States has put the utility in the position to use AMR technology and pass that technology cost on to the customer. The benefit here is that AMR systems help residents conserve water and monitor their billing, while allowing the utility to keep labor costs in check, thanks to the AMR system’s technological capabilities.

Communicating Success

New homeowners are embracing tech-savvy water providers who employ the newest of equipment and reading strategies. Commercial and industrial clients are on the bandwagon, too. The same customer who not only embraces a highly-technical water provider is also expecting to interact with that technology. The customer, as a whole, has become more sophisticated in data management and wants information on demand.

Utilities use the versatility of fixed network AMR to initiate steps to provide that access through the Internet. Inquiries can be reviewed online without the need for added customer service representatives. Communication is now available 24 hours a day, eliminating the need for the stereotypical, aggravating waits typically experienced by utility customers when inquiring about bills.

Fixed network AMR, as a result, is better able to provide a heightened level of customer service without making the utility assign resources for added labor.

Looking Ahead

It appears industry expenditures on AMR and other complementing technology will continue to move forward with the next decade. Historic growth rates of AMR systems have been very strong and the trend expects to continue as benefits are gained from their use. And there’s plenty of room to grow. Currently, approximately 20 percent of the water utility market is engaged in AMR technology. And that’s after an average 26 percent growth rate over the last six years.

But to remain on this track of innovation, water utilities need to take measures to remain proactive. For instance, security issues with our borders will demand that the water supply remain safe, and that will require continued efforts to improve monitoring and testing the water supply.

Through AMR, conservation efforts will be aided because of its ability to report more data in a faster fashion to satisfy everything from regulatory mandates to curious customers.

Speaking of customers, these commercial and residential end-users will on their own continue to drive the widening of AMR and AMR fixed networks use across the country. As they become more educated, they will undoubtedly demand more information and choices regarding their water use. A smart, proactive utility will understand this trend and take steps to become more efficient in order to remain competitive.

Summary

AMR technology, with its proven track record of its mobile (walk-by and drive-by) systems, has appropriately set the table for the next level of meter reading, that being the use of fixed networks. AMR fixed networks can take a utility to the next level of meter reading capability, and will reward the utility with cost-effective results and solutions to the many challenges that arise in society.

A utility expecting to compete in today’s industry should place AMR fixed networks on the front line of its strategic planning. The water market has typically had a good history for gaining acceptable return on its investments, and embracing AMR fixed networks is the next good bet.

About the Author:

Dave Herchko is currently Vice President of AMR Products & Services and MarComm with Sensus Metering Systems. He has been a member of AMRA since 1990 starting as a member of the organization’s Program Committee. Herchko was Chairperson of the Program Committee for two years in 2002 and 2003 and is now a member of the organizations Board of Directors. He has over 20 years of experience in the AMR and utility metering markets and a member of the AMRA and AWWA organizations.


AMRA to Host Autovation 2005

AMRA, the international voice of the automatic meter reading industry, will host Autovation 2005: The AMRA International Symposium, Sept 18-21 at the Long Beach Convention Center in Long Beach, CA.

Autovation 2005 is four days of education and exhibits on the latest and most innovative utility automation strategies and technologies. This is the one educational conference that provides knowledge about AMR system fundamentals as well as advanced issues of interest to utility leaders who have managed systems for years and now want to progress to the next level.

Attendees can take advantage of intensive Pre-Autovation Courses -- two days of Educational Sessions and expert Keynote Speakers. Topics include business cases and financial results, technology capabilities, customer service, integration and resource management.

Other show highlights include the Utility-to-Utility Forums. These roundtable discussions are designed to facilitate the free flow of ideas and experiences for utility representatives only. This is a great opportunity to hear lessons learned from utility leaders who have installed, integrated, managed and gained benefits from AMR.

The Autovation Exhibit Hall features leading equipment and service providers, offering the latest metering, billing, communications and information system breakthroughs.

For more information, visit the Autovation 2005 web site at www.amra-intl.org/autovation.

More in Home