On the Meter (American City & County)

(Published in American City & County, June 6, 2013. Click Here to view the article in its original format)

Asheville, N.C., bolsters customer service and response time with Smart Metering System

The Water Resources Department of Asheville, N.C., realized that manually collecting meter readings provided limited information for effectively managing water loss levels and answering customers’ billing-related questions.

The department turned to Cleveland, N.C.,-based Mueller Systems for a phased replacement of all water meters. Mueller installed Hot Rod, the company’s automated meter reading (AMR) system, which reduces the amount of time spent to collect meter reads, helps manage water usage and improves customer service.

AMR units attached to water meters transmit monthly consumption reads and leak and backflow alerts via radio frequency. The units internally store hourly consumption data for up to 170 days (six months) for retrieval. As meter readers drive along selected routes, AMR data management tools automatically collect meter readings and instant data logging alarms while providing progress screens and route maps, which display collected readings.

Now, Asheville technicians can automatically collect meter readings without stopping at each customer location. The department reduced meter reading times by 60 percent and cut meter reading staff by 50 percent. These employees were then re-classified and delegated new duties related to work as meter technicians to ensure new assemblies were maintained properly.

Brandon Buckner, meter services superintendent for Asheville, said, “We’ve drastically reduced the amount of time it takes to collect meter readings every billing cycle, and we’ve seen revenues increase due to our ability to more accurately account for water used by customers. Previously, we weren’t always able to answer customers’ billing-related questions because we didn’t have accurate and reliable data.”

Buckner credits the technology’s data logging and reporting features with helping  identify leaks and tracking water loss in a timely manner—an important capability as water loss costs utilities worldwide an estimated $18 billion per year, according to the World Bank.

Buckner said the leak alerts and stored data have helped Asheville “better control” non-revenue water levels and “prioritize water main repair and installation projects that can further increase revenues and reduce water loss.”

The information garnered through AMR will be used in a capital improvement program Asheville plans to implement to further improve conservation, infrastructure and customer service.

“We’ve created a data technician position that will focus exclusively on answering customers’ questions and alerting them of household leaks or excessive water consumption based on data provided by AMR,” said Buckner.  “We’re also in the process of establishing a non-revenue water committee that will use the data to further identify and reduce current water loss levels.”