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 the 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 BRRWC. The cost of converting to AMR drive-by was expensive and it was hard to prove how cost-effective that option would be because 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 toward 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 3,000 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 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 is mostly clay, so when water is added the pits become messy. In general, the testers looked for any flaws in the operation, installation or product.
Master Meter’s Dialog 3G Wireless RF AMR Drive-by System was chosen because it 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,” Powers said. “I pay our people $5 per meter change-out.”
He noted that the cost per read went from $0.70 to a figure in the teens with the change to the new meter. 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.