On-line Automatic Water meter Reading – Today’s Reality
On-line monitoring of water consumption at the customer level is and has always been a technologically demanding task, making majority of water-supply network providers remain satisfied with online monitoring of just their own water sources. This is mainly caused by the technological demandingness of water consumption meter reading in general, especially at inaccessible or technologically unequipped locations, most often the unavailability of electrical power being the main obstacle to the installation of telecommunication equipment.
However, clever implementation of new advanced telecommunication technologies, which has, in the last decade, been growing in all spheres of our life, made what we never new could happen possible. Such latest improvements in communication technology allow for radio equipment with extremely low power consumption. Systems based upon them do not require AC power and are capable of operating for several years on a single battery. Their minimum service lives, just time leaves behind company water meters – thus six years by current standards.
SOFTLINK has brought to the Czech market its own developed remote technology – using frequencies of 169 MHz and 868 MHz. Meeting the requirements for low power consumption, we have made possible the intercommunication capability among up to several kilometres distant network units.
In 2014 and 2015, thanks to industry great achievements, remote meter reading data collection projects in cities such as Sokolov, Cheb, Mariánské Lázne, Kutná Hora and Prague were started, pioneering meter readings at customer main water meters. As can be anticipated, this way we gathered significant amount of data from large urban agglomerations and hundreds of various meter reading points, including poorly accessible locations, such as water shafts. In the coming years, the number of meter reading points is expected to rise, hand in hand with the growing need to keep energy costs down, and thus water consumption indeed.
Our remote meter reading system contents the main web application and the radio network technology covering the concerned area. Custom made network technology is built upon base stations using 169 MHz and 868 MHz frequency band, which communicate with radio modems connected to individual water meters. These advanced radio modems are capable of reading values provided by up to four water meters and may use various commonly used power interfaces, such as MBUS 485, RS 485 and pulses. The superior efficiency of the solution lies in the high quality of the implemented radio network elements. The sensitivity of the receivers make ground for achieving large communication distances when using very low output power radio network elements. Communication can be bidirectional, which allows, as well as the data collection, also for the network endpoint control. The base station can reach up to thousands of endpoints, which allows for data acquisition from a large number of water meter equipment. The networks established already can easily be extended with additional meters and sensors, keeping the overall costs of network operations down as much as possible.
The software application provides meter reading data processing just as network traffic monitoring. Its communication subsystem is especially important, providing data collection from various technologies used in meter reading worldwide today. This feature of the system allows for processing other system made data that a provider may already be using. Moreover, this data import capability even enables the simultaneous use of Walk-By systems, currently widely used in water supply engineering. The application is thus able to integrate all well-known technological meter reading systems used in current water-supply networks.
In addition, important system functionalities include data export to other systems, such as those used for billing or other kinds of data processing. The application offers various kinds of meter reading presentations shown in overview tables and graphs. What would the application be without its alarm system. Users and customers, indeed, can monitor their consumption and quickly identify all anomalies (e.g. accidents, leaks, unauthorized consumptions, etc.). Reducing costs within the water-supply network considerably, when the alarm system preset limits are exceeded, the system automatically sends a message via SMS or e-mail to a selected person or a system operator.
Automatic meter reading of water consumption meters have in some locations been performed for longer than a year now and its seamless operation proves the high quality of the used solution.
SOFTLINK offers the described solution either in the form of service or as an investment. If the customer/provider chooses being serviced, they will not have to worry about equipment renewals, such as battery or radio modem replacements The assessment, which variant is more beneficial for a given provider, will be based upon their company specific conditions and locations.
What has been gained within the first year of service of online AMR, it is the certainty of sound of good investment. It allows providers to flexibly manage the water-supply networks up to the to the end customer level and quickly resolve failures and possible accidents. Finally, it reduces the costs of their own water meter reading operation, allowing for more accurate billing and enabling easy billing changes when customers move out.
Moreover, end customers are given the insight into their own water consumption patterns so they can protect themselves against leakages or other defects and stop wasting recourses at once. Most customers have been able to reduce their water consumption by up to 7%, when remote meter reading was introduced.
Author: Ing. Jaromír Charvát