Sutton & East Surrey adopt AMR technology

Posted: Monday 7th December 2009

Jeremy Heath of Sutton & East Surrey Water talks about the company’s Automatic Meter Reading journey…and his satisfaction at finding a ‘Thunderbird 2’ solution.

What are the business drivers for metering at Sutton & EastSurreyWater?

A: The main driver for us is making the business case. Some companies have gone the route of installing 100% automatic meter reading (AMR), whereas our approach has been to assess each metering scenario on its merits and to install the most appropriate meter reading technology. For example, we know that the touch read system works for many settings. However, the great thing about our current approach to metering technology is that at any given time in the future we can move to radio read simply by retro-fitting a head on our standard residential water meter - the Sensus 620. It’s entirely flexible.

How has Sutton & EastSurrey’s meter reading strategy developed?

A: Sutton & East Surrey has been using encoded meters for years and we’ve found that where there’s a good density of accessible meters then the system is fast and effective. The problem that we’ve always had is reading internal meters, because of problems over access. Return visits to properties add a lot of cost to the process.

When meters are installed internally, our options are to put in a direct read meter, a “dumb” meter -and then pay someone to read it, which is not very cost effective - or perhaps to install a touch pad on an exterior wall, which involves costly and potentially disruptive work. We decided that in these instances, we needed a cheaper internal meter installation that we could read remotely.

The breakthrough came when Sensus offered us radio-read technology. We trialled an installation of the Sensus((S))cout AMR system for residential water meters at the Well Farm Heights apartment development in South Whyteleafe, Surrey. The results were positive in that we were able to read 60 meters installed in pits or in central meter buildings remotely and simultaneously from a single location on the site using a handheld unit.

It made the business case for radio read technology and following the successful trial we installed this system at Park 25, a new build development of 250 houses and 250 flats. Moreover, we now have a policy at Sutton & East Surrey that all new internal meters, and replacement meters, will use the Sensus((S))cout radio system..

How isAMRdeveloping in Sutton & EastSurrey?

A: Just recently we have been using a Beta version of Dokom 3.6 software that processes the meter data. As a result, we have been able to programme the property read route in great detail which has significantly improved the speed of data collection – in fact we now reckon to be able to read up to 450 meters in an hour, compared to around 500 a day using touch read technology.

We recently ran a test in a street of around 100 properties, all of which are metered. We asked our reader to see if he could ‘outpace’ the remote read, but no matter how fast he walked the he couldn’t get in front of the data read-out from his hand-held device. Not so much a walk-by solution - more a ‘stride-by’.

Where do all the readings go once they’re read by the Dokom technology?

A: The data from the readings is sent straight to our billing system, which makes for a highly efficient end-to-end approach.

What percentage of metered houses do you have at Sutton andEast Surrey?

A: We have roughly a third. We’re aiming for 50% over the next 5 years, and beyond that it is set to increase still further.

Can you quantify the benefits for the water company and consumers ofAMR?

A: From a company perspective, the AMR system has certainly increased efficiency and reduced cost. For example, over the 10 year life of a meter, we will read it 20 times, but with internal installations requiring visual or touch read we expect to make return visits to gain access around six times over this period. This adds considerable cost to the business.

However, simply by fitting a radio transponder to the Sensus 620 meter, we can guarantee to read meters every time we visit. Radio technology effectively goes a long way to paying for itself.

For customers, the benefits include no disruption through reading and better information about consumption, including pointing to leakage issues if we spot unusually high consumption levels. We can also arrange to read meters more frequently if needed, because the method is much less intrusive.

What’s next?

A: We’re seeing major advantages in using radio read for internal meters – our next target is to roll-out the programme to hard-to-reach meter pits, such as those in fields. This will not only make reading much more time-efficient, but it will also addresses health and safety issues associated with carrying heavy tools to access meter pits.

As a company, we are very keen to be at the cutting edge of technology and always moving forward - we’re always looking for better ways of doing things and lowering cost. For us, radio read will be one of the ways of achieving our objectives for meter efficiency, accuracy and longevity.

The biggest fear for any business regarding technology is obsolescence – but this system is both backwards and forwards compatible. I call it the ‘Thunderbird 2’ solution because it can become whatever you want it to be, integrating all manner of reading methods. It has complete flexibility and I believe it’s the gateway to the future.

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