Creating a Smart Water Solution

Oct. 1, 2019
How Paducah, Kentucky, crafted its efficient new system and is riding the technology wave

Located at the confluence of the Tennessee and Ohio rivers, Paducah is a popular river town in western Kentucky. The city was founded in 1927 and is a UNESCO Creative City. Its municipal water utility, Paducah Water, works diligently to serve its approximately 27,000 water customers, ensuring the reliability, safety and quality of this historic and creative city’s water supply.

Five years ago, Paducah Water identified a need to upgrade its water system. The utility used a manual meter reading system for decades and investigated multiple solutions, including touch-read and drive-by systems. None of the solutions met its requirements. “In both of our attempts to deploy new solutions, we found the equipment and systems to be unreliable. We even had to stop our implementation efforts after having installed 1,000 new water meters that didn’t meet our needs,” said Bill Robertson, general manager of Paducah Water. “We had to keep looking.”

Finding the Right Solution

In 2014, Robertson and his team learned of Badger Meter’s Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) solutions, specifically the BEACON® AMA (Advanced Metering Analytics) managed solution with ORION® Cellular endpoints. Paducah Water began piloting the solution right away, becoming one of the first utilities in the country to implement this technology. “We were impressed and quickly ordered and installed additional units. The cellular endpoints were easy to set up and were reliable,” added Robertson.

Over the next couple of years, Paducah Water team members visited other utilities in Kentucky and Arkansas that had fully deployed Badger Meter’s BEACON AMA solution and ORION Cellular endpoints. During discussions with the other utilities’ employees, Paducah Water’s team heard high praise for the solutions.

In addition to their pilot, these independent references helped to show the Paducah Water team the benefits these technologies provide for a wide variety of demanding utility needs.

Strategic Deployment

Beyond the dated meter reading technology it had been using, Paducah Water also had older water meters that needed replacing. To improve efficiency and reliability across its entire water system, the utility needed to analyze and understand every aspect of the system, including the water meter. As the cash register of the water system, the water meter must provide reliable and accurate data at the source in order to optimize operation of the full system. The utility team realized that even with new automated meter reading technology, updating their water meters was an important step in creating a fully functional smart water solution.

“We began to evaluate costs and benefits of deploying new technology and water meters after hearing the results from utilities across the region,” said Robertson. “During the winter of 2016–17, we tested more than 2,000 of our meters, ranging in size from 5/8 in. to 2 in., to determine the efficiency of our existing meters, which had come from another water meter manufacturer. We used this information to estimate additional revenue that would result from deploying new meters and technology.”

While budgetary restrictions limited an immediate full system deployment, the flexibility of the cellular solution allowed the utility to deploy the new technology at a pace that worked for its team. First, the team installed 600 new ORION Cellular endpoints on existing residential meters in select locations around the city. The following year — fiscal year 2017–18 — the utility team budgeted to replace its commercial meters (1-1/2 in. and larger meters). Based on its experience with Badger Meter, the Paducah Water team researched and ultimately selected Badger Meter’s E-Series® Ultrasonic meters at the 1-1/2 in. and 2 in. sizes for the replacements, especially noting the meters’ accuracy and extended flow range.

A relatively new metering technology, ultrasonic meters use high-frequency sound waves to measure water flow. Within each meter, electronic transducers send consecutive high-frequency sound signals in forward and reverse directions. Then, an onboard processor turns this data into actionable information for the water utility. These technologically advanced meters can also achieve increased accuracy up to 1.5 percent over the normal operating range of the meter, and 3 percent at extended low flows. Since ultrasonic meters use solid-state technology and have no moving parts, they help to improve reliability and increase the life expectancy of the meter compared to traditional mechanical meters.

During winter 2017, after deciding to move forward with the technologies, the utility team began installing the new E-Series Ultrasonic meters alongside the ORION Cellular endpoints.

“For the first six months of data — from April to September 2018 — we saw an increase in revenue of 9.6 percent for the 1-1/2 in. meters and a startling 20.3 percent for our 2 in. meters. If increased revenues continue at this rate, we will be able to use the additional revenue to pay for replacements of our larger 3 in., 4 in. and 6 in. meters in less than two years,” added Robertson. In June 2018, Badger Meter announced the launch of its new E-Series Ultrasonic meters for commercial applications, which Paducah Water is now considering as a replacement for its larger meters.

Riding the Technology Wave

As part of its work with Badger Meter, Paducah Water has become a utility leader in implementing the new IoT-enabled cellular networks.

“Cellular-driven technologies, such as our ORION Cellular endpoints, are allowing water utilities to deploy the latest technology without the need for costly infrastructure and make updates as the technology itself improves. This flexibility enabled Paducah Water to transition to the new system based on their budget and time schedule,” said Kim Swinford, account manager at Badger Meter. “By using cellular, Paducah Water is riding the technology wave.”

Water metering technology is advancing more rapidly than ever before. Paducah Water, through its work with Badger Meter, is staying up to date with these advancements.

“Once we complete our full deployments of BEACON AMA software and ORION Cellular endpoints, we will have an even more reliable and efficient water system — one that allows us to capitalize on increased revenues for other infrastructure projects and reduce customer inquiries,” said Robertson. “This new technology has been an impressive and worthy investment.”

About the Author

Kristie Anderson | Marketing Manager, Badger Meter

Kristie Anderson is marketing manager for Badger Meter. She can be reached at [email protected]. Badger Meter is the nation’s oldest independent manufacturer of water metering solutions.        

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