Manually connecting and disconnecting water service for the transient “snowbird” residents has been a longtime administrative hassle for the Charlotte County Utilities (CCU), but far more costly and labor-intensive have been the utility’s year-round water meter inspection visits collecting on-site water usage billing data from almost 60,000 meters.
Until a few years ago, Charlotte County collected water usage data by walking house-to-house to collect meter readings. To cut costs and improve meter-reading efficiency, CCU replaced a quarter of their 15-year-old manual water meters with Automatic Meter Reading (AMR) meters. Equipped with short-range radio transmitters, the AMR meters enabled “drive-by” data collection using vehicles equipped with specialized radio receivers to collect water usage data. This worked well for a while.
“The radios built into those AMR meters consistently failed after a few years, but our meter vendor only offered a one-year warranty on those units,” said Joan Brown, Charlotte County Utilities business services manager at the time. “Rather than replace those defective AMR meters at a cost of millions of dollars, we decided to replace all our 58,000 water meters with new AMI-based water metering technology from Mueller Systems.”
Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) systems are next-generation “smart grid” technologies that provide enhanced networked communications and control between residential and commercial metering devices and utility or municipal data management systems. Unlike read-only AMR (automatic meter reading) devices, AMI technology enables continuous two-way communications between the network and metering devices, enabling accurate measurement and collection of detailed usage and billing information, demand-response capabilities, customer alerts and notifications, remote service-connections and disconnections, and more.
CCU engaged Mueller Systems for a pilot project evaluating their Mi.Net® AMI data-gathering system designed specifically for water utilities. Wirelessly linking meters, distribution sensors, and control devices for real-time access, the Mi.Net has specialized transceivers on metering devices to gather and pass wireless data to area data-hub collectors that aggregate and upload metering data to water utility servers or hosted servers for data processing.
The pilot was so successful that CCU accelerated their timetable for a system-wide AMI meter changeover from a 10-year transitional plan, to replacing all 58,000 water meters in five years.
The Mi.Net system’s command-and-control functionality and wireless connectivity enables flexible scalability for accommodating system growth and adding future capabilities. The system’s real-time connectivity and two-way communications will enable enhanced services and features delivered through an online “customer portal” that will allow Charlotte County’s users to monitor and compare water usage and billing history in the future.
The AMI system provides remote-connect/disconnect and also has a special “district management” feature that enables the utility to identify mysterious water losses within a certain geographical area.
Enjoying a 99% meter-reading success rate with their AMI system, Charlotte County’s internal auditing indicates the read-accuracy of their new AMI meters has resulted in an average revenue gain of $400,000 per year. Charlotte County estimates savings over costs of the new AMI system to achieve $2 million by the seventh year of their 10-year plan, and $3.6 million in Year 10 — a capital improvement project success story delivering a measurable return on investment.