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Utility Alchemy: Improving Revenue While Saving Water

Congress: 2015
Author(s): Graham Symmonds (Phoenix, USA)

Graham Symmonds [Phoenix, USA]



Keyword(s): Sub-theme 14: Valuing water: monetary and non-monetary dimensions,
Oral:
Abstract

Introduction

The ancient Alchemist is often depicted toiling with materials and processes in an effort to discover a mechanism that would convert ordinary metals into silver and gold. In our water utilities the act of creating something from nothing is more than a metaphor; it is a financial imperative.

For a decade, water utilities have continued to struggle with water scarcity and decreasing revenues. Our utilities exist in an already bleak financial reality in which year-over-year revenues continue to decline and continuing drought conditions are driving both groundwater and surface water supplies to critical levels.

Today however, however, the Utility Alchemist has at his disposal an alloying element of tremendous power: data.

Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) The benefits of near-real time data are driving significant interest in AMI platforms. However, despite the advantages of AMI over AMR and manual reading, the adoption of AMI is stalled in the marketplace. Several contributing factors can be identified for this:

* Difficulty in aligning deployment schedules with operational billing requirements;

* The reality of multiple-technology configurations; and

* An inability of utility data systems to manage and make sense of the increased volume and velocity of data.

Meter Data Management -- The Critical Pivot for AMI Data

To solve these problems, it's important to have a MDM platform that is neither technology nor installation dependent. That is, a platform that is capable of handling manual, AMR and AMI data simultaneously, and at the same time be indifferent to the specific source of the data.

Addressing the multi-technology multiple data source variability requires a new breed of MDM, one which acts as the pivot for the meter data. Such a system must be able to read, translate and transform the data from any AMI/AMR vendor communication system, and be able to supply the necessary read file when requested for billing.

Decoupling billing from the physical act of data collection not only solves the multiple technology issue, but more importantly creates an environment within which the deployment timeline is moot: a system that can handle manual, AMR and AMI data is indifferent to the data source and is therefore capable of insulating the billing process from disruption by any AMI installation schedule.

Data: The Utility Alchemist's Alloy

While many MDM platforms for AMR systems are not able to function in the much deeper and wider data pool that is provided by AMI, selecting a platform that is capable of receiving, normalization and homogenization of data from disparate meter reading technologies and data sources will drive significant improvements in utility performance.

By providing customers with highly granular data, they can and do make decisions to control their costs and water consumption through proactive conservation. In many cases customer demand reduction can be fleeting, but by combining the higher frequency and granularity of AMI data with proactive cost information from CIS, we have seen sustained per capita demand reduction of 14% over 5 years.

Normally that demand destruction would translate into decreased revenue for the utility and likely rate increases for the customers. But combining GIS-centric customer information systems, highly granular AMI systems, and technology-agnostic MDM platforms and automated validation routines, we have demonstrated that it is possible generate increased revenue (7 -- 9%) while reducing demand.

True alchemy. 1. Eskaf, S. (2013), Are operating revenues declining for local government-owned water utilities? Evidence from six states, Environmental Finance Center at the University of North Carolina. (http://tinyurl.com/crd2rpt)

2. Castle, S.L., Thomas, B.F., Reager, J.T., Rodell, M., Swenson, S.C., Famiglietti, J.S. (2014), Groundwater Depletion During Drought Threatens Future Water Security of the Colorado River Basin, American Geophysical Union, 2014, doi: 10.1002/2014GL061055

3. Walton, B. (2014) Lake Mead Drains to Record Low As Western Drought Deepens, Circle of Blue, (http://www.circleofblue.org/waternews/2014/world/lake-mead-drains-record-low-western-drought-deepens/)

4. Hill, T., Symmonds, G. (2013), The Smart Grid for Water: How Data Will Save Our Water and Your Utility, Advantage Media Group, Charleston, SC

5. Gleick, P. (2010), Roadmap for sustainable water resources in southwestern North America PNAS

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