Combination Utilities See Value in Multi-utility AMR

Located in the heart of central Minnesota’s lake country, Brainerd Public Utilities serves the water and electric needs of a city that has seen a sharp rise in new development and residential construction.

Jul 1st, 2005
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Located in the heart of central Minnesota’s lake country, Brainerd Public Utilities serves the water and electric needs of a city that has seen a sharp rise in new development and residential construction.

Until recently, the utility received power and water use information through a combination of meter readers and estimated reads. Now, it is deploying an automatic meter reading (AMR) system capable of returning daily electric and water readings.


The ORION transmitter can be remote mounted on the wall of the house (in this case, next to the electric meter), integral with the water meter or in a pit-mount version capable of prolonged submersion.
Click here to enlarge image

When it first began investigating AMR, the utility was seeking to address typical concerns, such as getting accurate, timely reads and improving the efficiency of the meter reading function. But Brainerd Public Utilities, which provides electric power to 7,500 accounts and water service to 5,000, also demanded a multi-utility system that automatically returned meter information to the utility office.

It looked at a variety of systems before deciding on a power line carrier system from Hunt Technologies. It began testing Hunt’s multi-utility solution in 2004. This system combines Hunt’s two-way AMR technology with the ORION® transmitter from Badger Meter to provide both an electric and water read in one packet of information that is transmitted over the power line to the utility.

“We wanted one AMR system that would work for both electric and water,” said Scott Sjolund, technology supervisor at Brainerd Public Utilities. “Multi-utility was a requirement for us from the start. It didn’t make any sense for us to read electric meters if we couldn’t read water too.”

System accuracy was another important consideration. According to Sjolund, the utility looked for a system that virtually removes the potential for error in recording readings, and also provides functions such as outage detection, leak detection and flexible billing options.

In terms of improved efficiency, Sjolund said the utility was looking to reassign meter reading staff to other duties. For this reason, drive-by or walk-by solutions were never a serious consideration because both would require employees to go out in the field to retrieve meter information.

Power Line Carrier

The backbone of Hunt Technologies’ multi-utility solution is its smart endpoint that resides in the electric meter and sends and receives information over the power line. The endpoint is equipped with RF technology enabling it to receive radio signals from the ORION transmitter.

According to Al Swanson, product marketing manager at Hunt Technologies, the TS2 multi-utility endpoint is a true, two-way communication transceiver that is capable of collecting and transmitting electric, water and gas meter reads.

“The biggest advantage of our TS2 system is the fact that it is always on, monitoring time-of-use and demand consumption, as well as detecting outages and leaks,” Swanson said. “You get accurate, billable information every day.”

Benefits

In addition to accurate daily data, Hunt’s multi-utility system offers unique features to utility marketplace. These include:

• Continual monitoring for outage, tamper and leak detection

• A single software system for monitoring electric, water and gas meters.

• Flexible billing cycles, with the ability to immediately perform off-cycle reads.

• Billing extracts compatible with most software programs

Brainerd Public Utilities bills customers monthly, with a single bill for electric and water service. With Hunt’s Command Center™ software, the utility is able to extract usage information in a format compatible with its InVision billing software.


Scott Sjolund, technology supervisor at Brainerd Public Utilities, stands by one of the new housing developments where the utility has installed Hunt Technologies� multi-utility AMR system. This system returns daily water and electric readings using power line carrier technology. An ORION® water transmitter mounted on the wall of the house sends the water meter reads to the Hunt endpoint in the electric meter. The endpoint transmits both readings back daily to the utility office.
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After installing a few hundred endpoints, Brainerd Public Utilities has already used the leak detection function to check out possible leaks at a handful of residential accounts. Outage detection capabilities will increase as more endpoints are deployed. In most cases, the utility is able to retrofit existing electric and water meters, and has more meter options to choose from when it needs to replace meters.

Another hallmark of the Hunt System is meter compatibility. Brainerd Public Utilities uses Sensus water meters and Landis + Gyr electric meters. The ORION transmitter connects to most encoder registers used in the water industry.

Deployment

With a population of about 14,000, Brainerd is a city on the move. Growth in the surrounding county has been rapid, as retirees settle around the lakes and industry expands. Rising property values are leading to new housing developments within the city itself and the neighboring city of Baxter, where Brainerd Public Utilities also serves a few accounts.

The city’s growth makes AMR a beneficial investment both short-term and long-term. Brainerd Public Utilities is on a four-to-five-year schedule for deploying the TS2 multi-utility system, and plans to complete 10 percent of the deployment in the next few months.

The majority of Brainerd’s residential water meters are located in the home’s basement. The ORION transmitter provides a number of configuration options, including integral, remote or pit mounts. Brainerd Public Utilities plans on mounting the transmitter on the exterior wall of the building in most cases to provide the optimal transmission to the electric meter.

In addition to new housing developments, Brainerd has older neighborhoods that contain high concentrations of rental housing. “Upwards of 45 percent of our residential customers are renting, so we see a lot of turnover in our customer base,” Sjolund said.

It’s with these rental units that Sjolund really looks forward to the efficiencies brought by AMR. In particular, the Hunt system will allow the utility to do final reads for customer move-in and move-out right from the utility office, even when the customer calls at the last minute.

AMR will also improve safety for meter readers and privacy for utility customers. Requiring meter readers to enter residences on a regular basis to do their jobs is not the best situation and could cause potential problems, Sjolund said.

“From our standpoint, employee safety and customer privacy are big selling points,” he said. “Of all of the benefits, these are probably the ones that will be most easily seen by the customer.”

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