Data Profiling, Interval Data Enhance Utility Operations

When a single utility provides a combination of water, gas or electric, the provider is sometimes referred to as a multi-utility.

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by Ted Schaar

When a single utility provides a combination of water, gas or electric, the provider is sometimes referred to as a multi-utility. Multi-utilities offer two or more services and have more than one meter on customer premises to measure usage.

Powerline Carrier (PLC) and Data Communications Networks are among the technologies that allow multi-utilities to collect usage readings remotely from two or more services at the same account. With PLC, the power distribution grid that carries electricity is used to provide two-way communications between the meters and the utility office. The electric meter is the primary sender and receiver.

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Utility worker uses wireless technology to read meters.
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Data Communications Networks employ a wireless approach. Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) transceivers are installed on electric meters and transmit data one to another and then to a repeater. These electric AMI transceivers can also pick up the metering data broadcasts from water and gas transmitters in the local area. Transceivers equipped with a Wide Area Network antenna send the collected signals to a centrally located antenna. Data is then communicated to the utility billing system.

Badger Meter and three partners — Aclara®, Landis+Gyr®, and Tantalus® — develop and supply technologies that help make PLC and wireless two-way Data Communications Networks possible. Badger's ORION system is flexible enough to work with the products of all three companies. Using ORION and either PLC or wireless two-way Data Communications Networks, customers of each company can collect a combination of water, gas or electric usage data remotely.

PLC: Water and Electric

An innovative PLC and ORION system is meeting the needs of a multi-utility in Kutztown, PA. Located 110 miles west of New York, the community is home to Kutztown University of Pennsylvania, an institution of higher learning with a history stretching back to 1846. The Borough of Kutztown not only distributes water but also supplies electricity, cable television, high-speed internet, and telecommunications to its population of 9,500 students and 5,000 permanent residents.

In 2003, Kutztown officials began to explore ways of improving the city's ability to collect water meter readings.

“We looked for something that would give us control across the network and even at the meters themselves, and considered various approaches before selecting ORION® and TWACS®,” said Director of Information Technology Frank Caruso.

TWACS, offered by Badger's partner Aclara, stands for Two-Way Automatic Communications System.

“It allows us to send information to and receive information from electric meters,” said Superintendent of Electric and Telecommunications Bruce Follweiler. “The electric meters in turn have several ports that are able to receive data from other sources, including the ORION transmitters on our Badger water meters.”

“A major motivation for selecting this system,” Caruso said, “is that we are contemplating changing how we bill customers for services. In the not-too-distant future, charges might vary according to the time of day. For example, water and electricity will probably cost more when used during daylight hours than at night.”

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The family of Badger Meter products allows utility customers to collect usage data remotely.
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Caruso and Follweiler said the system might also permit Kutztown to adopt a new approach to how customers pay for utility services. This approach is already being used successfully in several communities.

“Basically, it's a credit card swipe system that allows users to pay for days or months of service in advance,” Follweiler said. “When the pre-paid amount gets close to zero, an in-home display flashes, alerting residents to the need to pre-pay for more time.”

This will be especially beneficial in communities like Kutztown that have sizeable transient populations.

“People sometimes forget to pay their bills,” said Walter Hess, Superintendent of Water/Wastewater. “And the pre-pay method helps them remember.”

Disconnects due to non-payment are tough on customers and costly for the utility.

“This system sets the stage for reducing disconnects considerably,” said Follweiler, “and that's good for everyone.”

Data Communications Networks: Water and Electric

On the West Coast, the ORION System is helping another multi-utility collect water meter readings along with electric readings using a Data Communication Network. Shasta Lake, CA, is a community of 10,000 near Shasta Dam — the second largest dam in the nation — which harnesses the power of the Sacramento River to generate electricity.

Badger ORION transmitters are installed on the community's water meters and send data to electric meter AMI transceivers made by Badger Meter partner Tantalus. Electric and water readings are then radioed from one electric meter to another until they reach a repeater called a “shark fin.”

Shark fins are positioned around Shasta Lake and transmit data to a 100-foot-tall antenna located near the city's center. The antenna relays information to the utility billing technician's office.

“Along with many collection and billing efficiencies,” said Utility Billing Technician Connie Richter, “one of the big changes is that we're able to determine remotely if a customer is losing water due to a leak. It could be a bad irrigation valve or someone might have left a hose on. When we notice water is being used continuously for a 24-hour period, we know that it's probably unintentional and alert the customer.”

Meter Reader Levi Levanseler said city personnel were impressed by the system's ability to transmit signals through pit covers.

“We thought we might have to open them up,” he said, “but the signals are strong enough to be picked up by electric meter transceivers with the lids intact.”

Finance and General Services Manager John Jones is happy with the new system and said he would recommend it to other communities. “The utility business is all about customer service and conservation, and our new system has improved both for the City of Shasta Lake.”

Benefits of Usage Data

Across the country, PLC and Data Communications Networks are offering utilities innovative ways to retrieve meter data. With the assistance of ORION and technology provided by Badger Meter partners, it is now possible for multi-utilities to collect gas and water readings along with electric readings.

The around-the-clock availability of usage data enhances utility operations in many ways, from helping technicians detect power outages and leaks to preventing tampering. Bill explanations are also easier to present and understand, and utility personnel have excellent and timely information when assisting customers who wish to reduce their use of energy and water.

The system along, with PLC and Data Communications Networks capabilities, is also preparing the way for emerging technologies and methodologies that are still under research and development, including “smart meters.”

About the Author:

Ted Schaar is a freelance writer based in Brookfield, WI.

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