Guest Column | September 26, 2016

Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) Brings More Reliable Water Operations Clearly Into Focus

By Michael Sullivan and Carey Hidaka

Learn about the advantages and implementation of AMI from experts who are making “smarter water” a reality.

Water is a precious resource, often taken for granted in some parts of the world, while other regions struggle with life-threatening scarcity. Water conservation is a critical aspect of sustainability in communities worldwide, and smart technology can often be found at the forefront of transformative change and improvement.

Our planet is becoming smarter: The growth in the adoption of instrumentation, widespread system interconnectivity, and intelligence through Big Data are enabling the creation of “cognitive” systems that combine processing of all types of data with machine learning to improve the world around us. This cognitive era is opening up new avenues for communities and businesses to improve operations and act more responsibly when it comes to sustainability by making it easier to sort through all the complexity and improving engagement across the entire value chain. Even organizations that have not been traditionally consumer-focused are seeing more connectivity and engagement with their end users. In this cognitive world, systems such as water, energy, and transportation are progressively becoming more dependent upon understanding and encouraging positive behavior by end consumers. And by understanding what drives individual behavior organizations can tap this powerful potential to become more proactive, using data as the driver to provide new operational insights, predict problems before they occur, and operate more efficiently. For water and wastewater utilities, these steps help to improve vital water systems globally and address industry challenges associated with aging and failing infrastructure, drought, water quality deterioration, and an aging and retiring workforce.

Making The Case For Measuring Usage
Smart metering solutions can automate the collection and transport of meter information, allowing utilities to extract meaningful customer usage data to understand actual resource usage. For example, during times of stress on the distribution system, advanced meter management can be an important source of data to read meters rapidly and more frequently to gain a better understanding of customers’ usage and make informed decisions about operations during times of high demand or shortages. Advanced meter infrastructure can also help utilities:

  • Improve reliability and response time to address pressures from regulatory bodies and the market.
  • Increase workforce productivity and safety by automating tasks and limiting the amount of onsite work required.
  • Identify and locate outages quickly to speed time to response.
  • Improve resource planning.
  • Motivate customers to limit resource usage.
  • Enable time-based billing to help reduce peaks, reward customers for off-peak use, and provide incentives to reduce peak consumption.
  • Facilitate a more interactive relationship with utility consumers by enabling home area networking.
  • Enhance operational awareness throughout the energy value chain, providing significant operational and planning benefits.

Smart metering also allows utilities to realize significant operational efficiencies and cost savings. Smart meters can automate certain time-consuming maintenance requests and minimize field meter work orders, which can reduce operating costs over a range of activities such as meter reading, distribution system maintenance, and managing against system failures.

Advantages Of Data Analysis
Smart meters no longer just measure consumption — and they are not an isolated system to themselves. Today, they are complementing a variety of novel sensing technologies and being woven into the Internet of Things to drive new insights.

Beyond the obvious benefit of cost efficiency, meter data can be analyzed to understand usage consumption and detect anomalies such as leaks, malfunctioning of meters, or theft. After introducing specific meter data, utilities can quickly identify leaks and immediately intervene, giving them the upper hand to reduce water loss, cost of refunds and legal expenses, and offer improved quality of service. Additionally, low consumption alerts can help detect theft or meter faults.

Perhaps most importantly, alerts for abnormal usage in the public and private sectors can reduce careless water usage in places such as schools, sports centers, hospitals, and municipality-owned institutions, which help utilities and individuals play an active role in monitoring water usage and consumption, thereby bringing awareness to the scarcity of water.

Implementation Of AMI
Following the decision to roll out an advanced metering infrastructure, utilities will benefit from taking purposeful strides toward implementation. The three phases of implementing AMI include:

  • Pre-project planning and product selection: Put a regulatory strategy in place, develop business cases, create a preliminary work plan, and schedule and begin technology selection.
  • Pre-deployment preparation: Refine the business case and regulatory process, begin meter testing and pilots, finalize technology selections, and begin business process design.
  • Full deployment: Test and introduce a fully-integrated systems solution that can enable more corporate benefit than a simple meter-reading solution.

As the need to preserve water becomes more closely tied to the widespread use of data analytics and utilities, by extension, their end users will become more aware of the solutions available to create pervasive use of AMI. Once this infrastructure gains ground among large and small utility companies alike, they will be empowered to better manage their water usage and costs by providing more timely and detailed water usage information to customers. Smart metering takes us one step closer to a more strategic way of doing business and bridging the gap between technology and valuable and vulnerable resources.

About The Authors

Michael Sullivan is the Global Solutions Sales Leader for IBM Smarter Water Management Solutions, a cross-brand business focused on incubating and growing a portfolio of solutions to help better manage water delivery and treatment systems, water efficiency, and natural water resources. As a member of IBM’s Smarter Cities Leadership team, he leads a worldwide team of researchers, technical experts, and business development executives who leverage IBM’s information management, advanced analytics, technology services capabilities, and global network of ecosystem partners to deliver water management solutions for government, utility, and enterprise customers across the world. Mr. Sullivan has over 20 years of experience in executive positions leading innovation, brand development, and launching emerging businesses. He earned an MBA with a dual concentration in Marketing and Finance from Vanderbilt’s Owen Graduate School of Management and holds a BA in Psychology from Dartmouth College.

Carey Hidaka is a leader in Smarter Water Management business development and has managed IBM Smarter Water Management projects in the USA, working with clients to uncover smarter applications in the water/wastewater industry. Mr. Hidaka has 33 years of information technology experience and also practiced for nine years as a consulting engineer and PE, focusing on water resource planning and water and wastewater treatment plant designs and implementations for public and industrial sector clients. He has an MBA from the University of Chicago, an MS in Environmental Engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana- Champaign, and a BS in Civil Engineering from the University of Colorado at Boulder. He has published work in the journal American Water Works Association, IBM Journal of Research and Development, International Water Association, and World Water.