Reaping maximum benefits from smart water networks
Smart water networks and smart meters are loaded with useful data, but utilities and municipalities worldwide must learn how to manage and best use this unprecedented amount of data in order to take advantage of its benefits. Benefits of correctly analyzing all of the data from a smart water network include greater operational efficiency, improved customer service and increased intelligence, all of which can reduce costs for utilities and their customers.
Without implementing a smart water network, utilities receive one read per month, per customer; with a smart water network, there are multiple reads an hour per customer. While this is a great deal of data to manage, when utilities analyze this data, they can realize the full benefits of implementing a smart water network.
Things to Consider
One promising solution for utilities is meter data management through a modular advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) data analytics software platform designed to help maximize the value of data collected from various devices by efficiently managing, validating and presenting the data in useful formats.
When selecting meter data management system and data analytics software, utilities should consider the intelligence, automation and functionality of the proposed system. The right system will bridge the gap between information and action that exists in many smart water networks.
Intelligence. Intelligence is important to meter data management systems, particularly the key features of validation, editing and estimation. These features provide a series of routines to ensure multiple checks and balances of the data. In addition to these checks and balances, incoming data are examined using routines that verify both interval and raw data. With these features, the utility can assign the appropriate action, such as editing, estimation or extrapolation, to adjust any perceived discrepancies in the data. Through the intelligence of these features, utilities can run more efficiently and better serve customers.
These features enable this efficiency by empowering utilities to pre-select responses for different types of incoming information. The system then utilizes a variety of flags to immediately alert the utility about occurrences such as leaks. Another benefit of intelligence in a meter data management system is the ability to segment meters to match specific water towers, a practice known as district metering, which correlates consumption demand and measured usage.
The importance of intelligence when selecting a meter data management system cannot be overstated. These systems’ ability to process and respond to data is just one of the benefits of smart water networks that add little burden to utility resources. Once the appropriate responses are set for data, the system can react to perceived data discrepancies and alert the utility when appropriate.
Automation. Automation is another important consideration for a meter data management system. Utilities should carefully consider a system’s automation features to ensure the maximum level of operational efficiency is afforded.
Some meter data management systems enable the utility to create and organize specific reports—about a customer’s continuous usage, for example—and automatically send the reports to customers via e-mail or text message. Other automated features such as editing and extrapolation quickly address data exceptions and eliminate the need for manual intervention from the utility. And because the utility designs this automation, it is customized to specific needs and offers flexibility as needs change.
Utilities have varying needs that require customization and flexibility within the system and a system with customized menus can incorporate a variety of reports and address those needs specific to the utility or the utility customer.
Functionality. Because a meter data management system addresses data from the communications network, it must play well with other systems in order to be useful. When selecting this system, utilities must consider how the system will function with other aspects of their smart water networks, such as their communications networks. If the system does not offer a high level of functionality, utilities should consider the cost of money and resources to integrate all systems.
While it is important to consider the merits of a meter data management system in terms of intelligence, automation and functionality, it also is important to consider the utility and customer benefits of this type of data management. While a meter data management system enables utilities to take a system-wide view of their operations and run more efficiently, it also allows utilities to better serve customers by turning data into intelligence.
For example, some meter data management systems enable utilities to detect leaks more quickly, thereby saving the utility and customer money that otherwise would have gone down the drain. Continuous water usage from a leaky sink or forgotten hose that could have run for days or even months is noticed swiftly and stopped immediately.
Many systems also enable an improved customer experience through usage reports for faster response to customer inquiries and to give consumption details in hourly intervals for better insight into when exactly the water is used. Utilities also can use this software to monitor customers who are not expected to use water, such as those on vacation, and detect possible leaks, theft or meter stoppage.
Water conservation also is a serious consideration for utilities and end users worldwide. Meter data management systems can facilitate conservation by reconciling unaccounted-for water loss, enabling customer segmentation to enforce mandated watering days and encouraging customers to self-initiate conservation through customer portal applications. When water conservation elevates from a priority to a necessity, many systems also allow water utilities to implement tiered rates for end users. These rates reward end users with the lowest rate, provided they stay within a certain amount of usage per person, per household.
Whether utilities are considering a meter data management system for purposes of operational efficiency, customer service, water conservation or a combination of all three, it is important to select a system that is easily integrated with staff, technology and goals. By following the guidelines set forth in this article, utilities and customers can reap the maximum benefit from a meter data management system.