water drop

ACE 2011 Trends: Smart Meters, Smart Resource Allocation

Greetings from Washington, D.C.! The air – and water, of course – here is abuzz with the excitement of the American Water Works Association’s Annual Convention and Expo. After touring the expansive exhibit hall, meeting with industry leaders, and amassing an extensive collection of pens, I’ve been able to spot a number of trends.

The “Meter Madness” event on Monday should have been a dead giveaway that metering was going to play a significant issue this year. Not only is the impending enactment of a federal law affecting the materials that comprise water meters, but the equipment itself is expanding in function.

No longer is the meter just a method of calculating consumer costs. Utilities, faced with out-of-control leakage rates, are looking at “smart” meters that can detect extremely low flow rates on both consumer and industrial hookups. Not only that, but they are outfitted with analytics software that can analyze usage and, via a cellular or wireless network, communicate changes in that usage back to the central office, where operators can alert customers to potential leaks. More-precise data can also allow utilities to see where they are losing water in transit, so they can fix even costlier underground leaks.

I’ve heard concerns about cost-effectiveness from several utility operators. Unfortunately, I think we’ll have to wait until more utilities adopt the meters to get hard data on the cost-effectiveness potential.

On the other hand, numbers may not be everything: Many meter manufacturers have told me that their customers are feeling the need to go beyond basic service delivery and improve their customer support and customer service. These meters, many said, are a part of that, and can allow users to monitor their usage closely as well

Another major trend is the move away from on-site physical monitoring of pump stations and plants to remote monitoring. In lean economic times, it is simply not cost-effective to spend scarce human resources on driving around to check various pieces of equipment. Remote monitoring, via surveillance cameras that central managers can remotely manipulate to inspect various equipment, and cellular data transfer can help utilities use their scarce resources to the best of their ability.

What did I miss? Given the size of that expo hall, there’s no way I could have gotten it all in just two days. What trends did you see at ACE 2011?

Posted by Laura Williams on Jun 15, 2011