WHERE WATER ELECTRICITY MEET REMOTE WATER METER

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					WHERE WATER & ELECTRICITY MEET:
REMOTE WATER METER READING
  by
  TOM KNUTSEN & BRYAN SANDERS
  LOWER COLORADO RIVER AUTHORITY
  Published in UTILITY AUTOMATION & ENGINEERING T&D MAGAZINE, JULY 2006

  Our idea was simple -- we’d transfer
  our technology and skills from metering
  electricity use to measuring water flow.
  Our goal was to adapt the electric utility
  industry’s methods for collecting and
  managing meter data from remote meters
  to the Lower Colorado River Authority’s
  (LCRA) water businesses. We are currently
  reading two wholesale water meters
  remotely. To do that, we did more than
  transfer methods; we created new links
  between equipment and software that
  had never before talked with each other.
  We wanted to collect water pulse data
  into our electric utility standard meter
  reading software, Itron’s MV-90.
                                                                            Lower Colorado River
  LCRA, an agency of the state of Texas created in 1934                     Lake Austin, Austin, TX
  by the legislature to manage soil and water of the lower
  two-thirds of the Colorado River, is also a generation and         and their meter registers are likely to be under water, mud
  transmission electric utility. It sells electricity wholesale in   or fogged over.
  30,000 square miles of central Texas to public distribution        Reading LCRA’s 100 wholesale water meters may take
  systems. LCRA also sells both treated and raw water to a           almost a week of a meter reader’s time, including initial and
  mix of customers, ranging from individual homeowners to            re-reads. Under water, the numbers 3 and 8 look alike, and
  municipal water utilities, privately managed water systems,        the readers face risks -- one meter sits at the end of a path
  and golf courses.                                                  bordered on one side by a thorny hedge and on the other,
  Driving this project were the characteristics of wholesale         a pond full of water moccasins. Briefly, manual reading is
  water meters. They tend to be hard to get to, underground          time-consuming, unreliable, and risky.
  in shallow or deep vaults, covered with heavy cast iron lids,      First, we identified the meters where we wanted to test our
                                                                     ideas. Both measure potable water that LCRA treats and
                                                                     sells wholesale to water system management companies.
                                                                     And both serve subdivisions outside Austin. Second, neither
                                                                     meter is close to electric or telephone service, so we knew
                                                                     we’d need to be self-sufficient, with setups comprising
                                                                     a solar power source, a data logger, and a cell phone.
                                                                     Third, we had a new meter that would not require testing
                                                                     and calibration and an older one whose accuracy needed
                                                                     verification.
                                                                     The next task was finding data logger, cell phone, and solar
                                                                     power equipment compatible with each other, reliable in
                                                                     unprotected environments, and adaptable to reading the
                                                                     meters’ pulse contactors. After a brief but intense search
                                                                     for services, we concluded that LCRA’s own weather and
                                                                     stream monitoring equipment -- our hydrological and
                                                                     meteorological or “Hydromet” infrastructure -- was the
                                                                     best bet for a pilot test. Our Hydromet group uses a data
                                                                     logger designed specifically for hydrology by a company
                                                                     named Sutron. It provides a kit including a data logger,
                                                                     a solar voltaic power panel, a power inverter, a battery,


                                              21300 RIDGETOP CIRCLE             STERLING, VA 20166             WWW.SUTRON.COM
                                              (703)406-2800                     (703)406-2801 FAX              SALES@SUTRON.COM
WHERE WATER & ELECTRICITY MEET:
REMOTE WATER METER READING
 and a communication link in a NEMA enclosure. Even              as a communications and electronic specialist. He holds a
 though the Sutron logger provides many more functions           B.S. in computer science from Coleman College, San Diego.
 than we needed, we used it for convenience. And while our       Tom Knutsen is an energy services consultant for the
 Hydromet network uses radio, we opted for a cell modem          LCRA in Austin, Texas. He and three other coworkers
 as the communication device.                                    share responsibility for the meter and communications
                                                                 infrastructure, data collection, and billing data delivery
 The real challenge was enabling the Sutron logger and           for key end-use consumers served by LCRA’s wholesale
 the Itron MV-90 data collection system to use the same          customers. His writings on interval data management have
 language. Ultimately, we knew we wanted to be able              been published in Transmission and Distribution World and
 to provide both register reads for billing purposes and         Electric Energy T&D. Before LCRA, he worked five years
 intervals for planning and rate design. Interval data would     as a reporter for daily newspapers in Texas. He holds
 provide load curves of water use.                               an A.B. in history from Yale University and a master’s in
                                                                 communication from The University of Texas at Austin.
 We assigned meter channels for units of measure by
 function. Both sites use channel one to record battery
 voltage, a means of checking on the batteries’ charges, a       Find this article at:
 suggestion from our Hydromet crew.                              http://uaelp.pennnet.com/Articles/Article_Display.
                                                                 cfm?ARTICLE_ID=260252&p=22
 Flow and intervals were trickier. Each meter has two water
 lines with its meter and register: a smaller, main feed and a
 larger “fire line” for emergency needs.
 Essentially, we had to write what Itron calls a translation
 interface module (TIM), which enables logger data to
 mesh with MV-90. Sutron’s software package XConnect
 interrogates communication devices and retrieves data from
 its loggers. This software has an export feature to transfer
 data to multiple interfaces.
 We talked to Sutron and provided the DATA import format
 from an appendix of the MV90 documentation. With the
 proper export format, MV90 can import the XConnect files
 in a “.dat” file.
 When importing the data type file, it uses the MV-90
 master files as reference. We assigned meter channels
 in MV-90 to collect battery voltage, water flow, and, to
 produce a running use interval, a “DELTA.” DELTA is the
 difference between the current and previous 15-minute
 interval’s flow. We also elect the register read for each
 meter head. From those units of measure, then, we can see
 demand, a load curve, and the register reads for billing
 purposes.
 Before installation, we tested each step -- data collection,
 unit of measure verification, and communication links. After
 the testing, we started collecting data reliably in November
 2005. As with all remote metering, the weak link remains
 communication. Cell service cuts in and out, just as it does
 for remote reading of electric meters. We are testing the
 modem-logger connections, measuring cell strength at the
 meter sites, and trying to diagnose the weakness to stabilize
 service.
 Bryan Sanders is a metering analyst at the LCRA in Austin,
 Texas. He is responsible for the collection and validation
 of interval meter data for its key account program. He is
 the lead technical support for the meter data management
 software and hardware infrastructure. Prior to working at       “...wholesale water meters...hard to get to, underground in
 LCRA, he served in the US Army and Department of Defense             shallow or deep vaults, with heavy cast iron lids.”




                                                21300 RIDGETOP CIRCLE            STERLING, VA 20166            WWW.SUTRON.COM
                                                (703)406-2800                    (703)406-2801 FAX             SALES@SUTRON.COM

				
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