As more water utilities deploy advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), there is an increasing acceptance of these systems, according to Hassan Ali, general manager and vice president of Mueller Systems, which recently released an AMI system that uses fire hydrants to communicate water usage data. Ali discussed how innovation is crucial for technology providers in the effort to create a sound investment for its users.
Elizabeth Lisican: What are some of the biggest trends right now in advanced metering technologies?
Hassan Ali: What we’re seeing is a trend toward a lot more data—data that municipalities can use to improve their operational processes and their operational effectiveness to improve their sustainability for water, address sustainability issues for water and also engage customers a lot, in the effort of customer awareness to initiate sustainability. So, we see the technology moving from AMR or drive-by more toward AMI or smart metering, which allows for a lot more data to improve operations.
More technologies are now getting cost-effective, where we can provide 24-hour monitoring and basically turn the infrastructure into intelligent infrastructure. It can monitor itself; it can report when there are issues and allow municipalities to deploy their resources exactly where they are needed and solve them. We can create information on consumption on a more minute basis—hourly basis, subhourly basis—so that the consumers can be a part of any sustainability or conservation issues.
Lisican: How are the new technologies being deployed?
Ali: One of the challenges for deploying an infrastructure or for communication has been that water utilities don’t own electric infrastructure. Most of the wireless networks require electric infrastructure, whether it be electric poles, light poles or some way to deploy it at a high elevation and have electric power connected to it to operate it, which becomes pretty costly to manage.
So, if you could use your current infrastructure and add onto it communication technology so that you’re using your own infrastructure to create a wireless network upon which you can obtain all the benefits of AMI, that would be an ideal condition.
Lisican: What role will these types of metering technologies play in the future, and why will it be important?
Ali: The issues municipalities are facing are very real. They have infrastructure that is aging, and there are a lot of investments required to upgrade the infrastructure. Getting the most out of the infrastructure and really targeting their investment dollars toward upgrading the infrastructure exactly where it’s needed is a big challenge for municipalities, which will increase as time goes on because of the aging of the infrastructure.
Consumers’ expectations are a lot higher around the service and the information that they receive from any provider now. One of the surveys that Oracle performed of consumers and their expectations of municipalities for water indicated that 70% of consumers know that they need to conserve water but don’t have enough information to do that.
Lisican: How are municipalities responding to new AMI technologies? Are they starting to embrace them?
Ali: I think municipalities are understanding the issues more and more. As they start deploying AMI, some of them are publishing the results of the benefits they are getting, so the acceptance of the benefits are increasing and that would make the business cases easier. The industry is also focused on leveraging the AMI and adding more applications that provide added benefits.