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Combination of technologies allows North Carolina utility offer more precise measurements
Salisbury-Rowan Utilities in Salisbury, N.C., prides itself on providing excellent customer service. While its commercial and industrial customers comprise just 15% of total customer accounts, they generate 65% of the utility’s monthly billed volume.
That is why, when it came time to select a new meter reading solution, the ability to receive data-driven analytics to better understand, monitor and manage its operations was a top priority for the utility’s leadership team.
“We used to manually read 22,000 meters each month, were facing an aging infrastructure and looking at a meter change-out,” said Jason Wilson, engineering manager for Salisbury-Rowan Utilities. “We went beyond just the meters and evaluated metering solutions that could provide additional benefits such as proactive customer service, operational efficiencies, reduced meter-reading costs and rolling fewer trucks to get those monthly reads.”
The utility chose the Beacon advanced metering analytics (AMA) solution and Orion cellular endpoints from Badger Meter. Beacon AMA’s cloud-based software analytics platform provides the actionable information Salisbury-Rowan managers need and has saved both time and money for the utility’s largest customers.
“A nearby town is a wholesale purchase customer, and we also operate their system,” said Jeff Jones, senior engineer for Salisbury-Rowan Utilities. “As the contract operator, we are required to produce and file reports with the state for monthly water usage. We used to go there every day to read the master meter and record the usage. Now, with Beacon AMA, we get the daily readings in the office. We can also see when there is excessive usage that indicates a potential leak, and then we go out and find it.
“One of our largest customers is our schools. We installed an endpoint at one of the elementary schools at the end of May. When school was out in June, we noticed there was still continuous usage, which indicated a leak in the plumbing system. We identified where the leaks were, repaired them and by the end of the month the usage patterns dropped to what they should be. If they had gone undetected, the leaks would have added about $140 each month to the school’s water bill.”
At another large customer, reading a meter located in a belowground meter vault was a labor-intensive process that required pumping water out of the vault so meter readers could get the reading. With Beacon AMA, the utility obtains hourly reads without going into the vault and the customer can access its usage information to help monitor its system.
“Many of our commercial and industrial customers want to evaluate process efficiencies and account for the water they are using or may be losing,” Wilson said. “A large account recently built a new plant in Salisbury. They compared their water usage here to other plants they operate throughout the country and noticed they are operating at a higher level with the new plant. They are using the hourly data from the Beacon AMA software suite to perform an audit of where that water is going.”
Senior Engineer Jeff Jones (left) and Engineering Manager Jason Wilson.
Orion Cellular Endpoints Provide Flexibility
Salisbury-Rowan managers chose cellular meter reading technology because it allowed them to target customers that had a need for more data without the need for a fixed-based infrastructure to collect the information. It allowed the utility to do shotgun deployments throughout the system without a data collector in place.
“We were surprised at how easy it is to deploy the cellular endpoints,” Jones said. “You plug them in, activate them, provision them through the software and you start getting the reads.”
The utility was also able to leverage its investment in its existing ORION fixed network (SE) endpoints and infrastructure by integrating them into Beacon AMA.
Increased Revenues & Improved Customer Service
A major benefit of data analytics for Salisbury-Rowan customers is timeliness. The utility can let customers know within days if they might have an issue, such as a leak. Before Beacon AMA, it could have been six weeks or more before the customer would let the utility know they had a potential problem or questioned their water usage.
“Before, the only thing our customer service reps had was the same thing the customer had: the billing read,” Wilson said. “Now we’re able to look at hourly data every day, analyze it or set alerts, proactively let the customer know they may have an issue and work with them to resolve the problem.”
Wilson said Salisbury-Rowan’s experience with Beacon AMA has been very positive.
“We are actually generating increased revenues through more accurate meter reading,” he said. “We can give our large customers access to the data we are seeing on a daily basis to help them monitor their water usage and see potential problems. The big one for us is the abundance of data that we can evaluate and analyze in order to make better decisions and better forecasts for our utility.”