Smart Grid Support: Cloud-Based Solution Ends the Curse of High Residential Water Consumption

The city of Kings Mountain, N.C., initiated a Smart Grid as a Service pilot project with Leidos - the first municipal utility in the Carolinas to use smart meter technology on water, gas and electric meters under one communications technology.

Sep 26th, 2013
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By David Smith and Dennis Wells

For Dennis Wells, high residential water consumption was a benefit and a curse. On one hand, it meant more revenue for the city of Kings Mountain, N.C., where Wells is Water Resources Director. However, the high consumption often caused complaints to the city manager or mayor about high bills and these officials would then direct Wells to investigate and resolve the issue.

First, he would dispatch a field supervisor to inspect the water line and meter. The field supervisor usually found nothing irregular about the meter and would advise the consumer of a possible leak in his or her home. The consumer would then typically correct the leak and ask for an adjustment on the water bill. If the leaking water did not flow into the sewer, an adjustment was made to the bill. However, the next month another consumer would complain, and the whole process would start again. The $100 revenue gain was quickly offset by the added labor and frustration involved. All of Wells's work improving the water system was negated by one or two high bills each month. He needed a solution to the curse of high bill complaints and found it in Smart Grid as a Service.

Figure 1: Utility Portal - Water Meter and Consumption Chart

Smart Grid as a Service, a cloud-based solution offered by Leidos, reads water, gas and electric meters hourly, delivering 720 reads per month instead of just one. Smart Grid as a Service provides the meters, the module interface units (radio transmitters) and the field data collectors, along with all the necessary computer hardware and software on a subscription basis. In short, Smart Grid as a Service is advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) without capital outlay.

The city of Kings Mountain provides water, gas and electric utility service to more than 5,000 families, and in late 2012 initiated a Smart Grid as a Service pilot project with Leidos. Kings Mountain is the first municipal utility in the Carolinas to use smart meter technology on water, gas and electric meters. Electric smart meters are used in many utilities across America, but few utilities have applied smart meter technology to water and natural gas along with electric meters under one communications technology.

One of the lessons learned from the pilot was that meter readings are not just for monthly billing anymore; deeper analysis of meter readings is now part of the daily routine. The day starts with the meter analyst logging onto the Smart Grid as a Service utility portal to spot what activity has occurred in the last 24 hours. The analyst checks whether any meters have been tampered with and dispatches field crews if necessary.

In addition, the utility meter analyst reviews daily consumption reports for high and low consumption for not only water but electric and gas as well. The analyst can examine low water usage and then examine the electric usage to identify common trends. If both are low, the consumer may not be home. If water is low and electric is high, suspicions arise. Water usage over 1,000 gallons per day is tracked, so when a consumer has high water usage three days in a row, Wells contacts the consumer. These preemptive calls help eliminate high bills, and the consumer is usually grateful for this early warning of a possible leak. The curse and frustration of high water consumption has been eliminated by Smart Grid as a Service.

The Smart Grid as a Service pilot is yielding other benefits as well. Meter readers are being trained with new skills, thus avoiding the need to hire more staff. Now, disconnecting delinquent accounts can occur without rolling a truck. Additionally, when bills become past due, electricity is cut using the Smart Grid as a Service utility portal. As a result, Kings Mountain has learned that most consumers pay the same day to avoid possible water and gas cutoffs, which also saves the utility unnecessary truck rolls.

Kings Mountain field crews installing water meters

Electrical outage management is now proactive because the utility portal alerts Kings Mountain of meter outages as they occur so crews no longer have to wait for consumers to report an outage. Similarly, alerts for tampers, high voltage, water leaks, and water backflow point crews to trouble spots. This early detection prevents larger problems from occurring in the future.

Because the Smart Grid as a Service consumer portal shows monthly, daily and hourly utility consumption, the consumer benefits as well by being able to detect high consumption and change his or her behavior to avoid a high bill at the month's end. Kings Mountain is now evaluating all the benefits of the pilot project in advance of expanding Leidos' Smart Grid as a Service offering to the entire 15,000 meter population.

About the Authors: David Smith is Leidos' smart grid business process expert. Smith, a certified public accountant, has spent 25 years improving processes in the energy industry. He can be reached at david.s.smith@saic.com. Dennis Wells has been the Water Resources Director for the city of Kings Mountain for more than 12 years. Wells oversees the production and distribution of fresh water and the processing of wastewater. He can be reached at dennisw@cityofkm.com.

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