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The Blue Ridge Rural Water Co., in South Carolina now has four residential water systems with new meters, and a growing number of AMR (automatic meter reading) meters are being added on a regular basis.
In the beginning
When Brad Powers became the general manager of Blue Ridge Rural Water Co. (BRRWC), a new AMR system was in place using a radio that was connected to the water meter by wires. The water pit box had been changed out, and a hole had been cut in the lid to accommodate the meter radio system. An antenna was attached from the bottom of the lid to the drilled hole.
Using this same approach again would have required more money and labor, in addition to the cost of the meter and radio system. Plus, there was concern over cutting the wires, losing reads, changing out the box and modification of the lid, as well as making sure the separate radio and wire were in a safe place in the pit.
Powers had to weigh his options and find a solution that was reasonable and cost effective for the BRRWC. The cost of converting to AMR drive-by was expensive and it was hard to prove how cost effective that option would be since the existing system already had meters that could be used for a few more years.
To remedy the situation, Powers raised the price for new services, as they were needed during growth expansions. Half of the money went towards the work they did to stub in the service, while the other half went to the cost of the new AMR system meters.
The search for a solution
The nearby community is growing at a rate of 1,000 new customers per year, which would fund about 3,000 meters. So far there are 3000 3G meters in the system and based on the 8,500 or so originally required, the system will be complete and paid for in just a few years.
Powers and his staff did research by asking major meter and radio manufacturers and integrators to submit a meter for testing. When the meters arrived, they were tested to see how they worked, connected to the radios, installed in pits and examined in order to determine what would be the best solution for BRRWC.
In the end, three finalists were tested head to head for a month. The meters were installed in pits and the signal reception was measured for distance. They even tested for how fast they could drive-by (up to the speed limit) and pick up the read. The pits were also filled with water and tested for signal and water penetration. This was important because the soil around Greer is mostly clay, so when water is added the pits become messy. In general, the testers looked for any flaws in operation, installation or the product in general.
Master Meter’s DIALOG 3G Wireless RF AMR Drive-by System was the clear choice. The 3G was the only competitor that had the RF radio, antenna and water register sealed together under the glass of the register. The meter was also simple to install with no wiring, no special holes in the box lid, no antenna to attach to the lid and no issues with cut or damaged wiring after the installation. Lastly, the 3G self-activates when the water starts to flow.
“We do our own change outs on Saturdays,” said Powers. “I pay our people $5 per meter change-out.” He noted that the cost per read went from 70 cents to a figure in the teens with the change to the 3G . The savings come from the rate of the collection of the reads by drive-by, along with the accuracy. There is no longer a human read or the possibility of recording errors. Also, reads can be gathered in any type of weather, and in a way that is safe for the meter reader.