Here's a Way to Automate Water Metering and Reading While Keeping Existing Meters

Advanced metering infrastructure technology operates without water meter replacement and uses existing cellular network communication.

Here's a Way to Automate Water Metering and Reading While Keeping Existing Meters

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For decades, water utilities have worked to automate the reading of customer meters, eliminating the cost of sending staff members from house to house to record usage for billing purposes.

The ultimate in efficiency is advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), in which all meters transmit usage data to a central hub from which customer bills are generated automatically. The downside of this technology is the capital cost to replace the meters and install the communication infrastructure that makes the technology possible.

Now Smart Meter Reading Solutions (SPMR) has introduced an AMI system that works with customers’ existing meters and transmits data over existing cellular networks. The company says the technology, called CYCLOPS, is the easiest and least costly way for water utilities to reap the benefits of AMI.

It costs about half as much as traditional systems, the company says, because meters don’t have to be replaced and there’s no need for a dedicated communication network.

At the heart of the system is a camera unit that mounts to the customer meter, photographs the meter face and delivers the image to a server in the cloud for interpretation. Andy Kercher, president of SPMR, talked about the technology in an interview with Treatment Plant Operator.

What is your company’s background in this industry sector?

Kercher: We provide meter reading systems to electric, gas and water utilities, including systems for staff members who still walk to read meters. That is our foundational business. We realized the importance of utilities being able to automate on a budget. About two years ago we saw the need for a different kind of AMI fixed-network reading solution.

How is your system different?

Kercher: Traditional AMI solutions require utilities to change out their water meters, no matter how old, how new or how accurate. Then they require a new infrastructure of powered gateway collectors, repeaters and other components, which the utility then has to manage. We developed a system that makes use of the customers’ existing meters and communicates over an existing public network, so the utility doesn’t have to install anything above ground.

How does this technology account for all the different meter makes and models?

Kercher: Actually, the faces of the meters from the major manufacturers are all very similar. In general they are round, they have the same general diameter, they are black and white, and they all have an odometer with dials in the upper or lower hemisphere of the meter face.

Briefly, how does this system work?

Kercher: The camera unit takes a photograph of the face of the meter, focusing in on the dials. We transmit that to the cloud, where interpretive software converts it into a reading value. A Cyweb portal collects all of the raw photos and raw readings. Utility operators have the capability to look at any of those pictures from every day over the unit’s life. For each customer, one of those readings per month is sent to the utility’s billing department for them to calculate the usage and render a bill.

What does the camera unit include?

Kercher: The camera unit is adhered to the face of the meter. A cable connects that unit to a radio device, which sends the transmissions on the cellular network. The unit is powered by a battery that’s capable of operating in extreme cold and extreme heat and that can produce bursts on demand. The batteries will last more than 10 years.

Is there any particular application for which this technology is best suited?

Kercher: We could accommodate utilities where meters are inside the homes, but we’re probably better suited for meters set in pits at the service connection, which is the norm below the Mason-Dixon Line. The camera unit is attached to the meter down below ground level; the radio antenna goes into a hole in the lid. It is mounted as high as possible without it becoming a tripping, mowing or snow removal hazard.

How does this technology’s cost compare with that of traditional AMI systems? 

Kercher: We have gathered data over 12 months of AMI implementations. The cost of a traditional fixed-network AMI system averages $509 per metering point. These are utilities with 50,000 to 100,000 meters, which means they have the scale needed to bring the price point down. CYCLOPS systems typically cost $299 per metering point in small quantities and $238 in quantities of a thousand or more. 

What is involved in the installation of the camera units?

Kercher: The utility’s staff can install them. They are easily installed directly over a meter’s odometer, and because of the innovative design, they do not interfere with the ability to read the meter visually. We have a YouTube video showing an installation completed in less than two minutes.

What has been the reaction to this technology since it was introduced to the market?

Kercher: We are fielding requests from across the United States from forward-thinking utility executives who want to deliver the many benefits of AMI to their customers at an affordable cost. Our technology is robust, it is proven, and it is easily installed. It is the least expensive way to jump into AMI.   


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