Industry Insights: Metering
Government Product News (GPN): What are some new innovations that have been integrated into your industry’s products recently?
John Fillinger of Badger Meter (JF): Over the past several years, the integration of the Internet of Things (IoT) and deployment of smart city systems have both had an effect on water utility operations. Changing water utility and consumer demands have also pushed water metering manufacturers to explore greater innovations in both water meters and metering technologies that are critical for relaying data to the utility.
For water meters – the utility’s “cash register” – electronic, or ultrasonic meters, have become much more mainstream. These meters empower water utilities to capture data reliably and on a large scale – from high-flow to very low-flow installations. With pressure sensors now being placed in electronic meters, utilities can also detect breaks in a water line much more easily and quickly than ever before.
Communication technologies are also dramatically changing how water utilities operate. The water metering industry continues to see more manufacturing companies offer cellular technology, for instance, rather than traditional fixed-network systems.
Cellular automated metering infrastructure (AMI) technologies do not require physical infrastructure to update and maintain, which allows for maximum flexibility and scalability. In comparison, traditional fixed-network AMI and other systems that require the deployment of infrastructure are ‘stuck in time’ deployments.
In other words, as technology advances, utilities with a traditional fixed-network system are stuck with the same technology platform over the life of the system. Much like failed upgrades on older computers, this fixed infrastructure may not support new technologies in the future.
GPN: What is the biggest misunderstanding/myth that you think public sector professionals may believe about doing business with your industry or using your industry’s products?
JF: For decades, the water industry advanced slowly, but recently, the industry has seen fairly rapid advancements in cellular technologies, along with the rise of the IoT and smart city deployments. These changes created a gap in understanding, especially in the capabilities of cellular AMI technology.
While metering manufacturers and trade associations work to dispel questions about cellular, questions remain. These questions are in part a result of the technology’s continued evolution. Cellular technology affects every part of our lives, but how machines operate on cellular networks is different than how individuals use these networks.
With the introduction of a new cellular network built only for machine-to-machine communication – the LTE-M network – water utilities now have access to an even more powerful, reliable and safe infrastructure-free network built specifically for applications, such as metering technology. As cellular technology continues to evolve (from LTE to LTE-M and beyond), utilities will also be able to deploy metering endpoints with the latest possible technology.
The rate in which technology is advancing today requires a more flexible solution. By understanding and working to dispel questions surrounding cellular technology, water utilities should find that this technology offers the ability to evolve and support greater network reliability and security.
GPN: What future developments can governments expect to see from this industry?
JF: Looking to the future, technology advancements surrounding data, sensors and communication will continue to drive the industry. These technologies are fast-moving and evolving, as well. This is a significant change compared to the past generations of metering technologies that advanced on a five-to-ten-year (or longer) basis. Today, the industry is seeing new technologies roll-out almost annually, and with the focus turning to smart water solutions traditional fixed network AMI systems are becoming obsolete.
In addition, water utility smart city deployments, critical for capturing a greater amount of data and empowering a utility to act upon the data, are also impacting cities as a whole. The all-encompassing nature of a water utility’s reach throughout a city has made water utilities key decision-makers in the type of technology an entire city will use for its smart city deployments, which can impact smart parking meters, lighting, trash removal and more. Thus, a water utility deploying solutions, such as infrastructure-free cellular networks, can allow for greater flexibility and innovation for the entire city.
Since cellular networks currently cover more than 99.9 percent of the U.S. population (according to information provided by the U.S. government in support of its Global Goals for Sustainable Development), cellular solutions save significant time and money by allowing water utilities to manage their smart city deployments without the need to “lock in” an entire city to a specific smart infrastructure.
Beyond communication and smart city technologies, water meters are continuing to become more robust and reliable. Changes in metering communication solutions have required metering manufacturers to review current metering technology, including both electronic and mechanical meters. And, while newer ultrasonic meters may be the right fit for some water utilities, nutating disc meters still remain relevant and valuable.
Because of the faster-pace of technological advancements, it’s imperative that water utilities consider their long-term plan before implementing a metering solution. By working with a metering manufacturer or trade association to learn about the solutions available, a water utility can determine the metering solution that best fits its needs and the needs of its water customers.
John Fillinger is the director of utility marketing for Badger Meter, the only independent U.S. water meter manufacturer. With 20 years of experience in the water industry, he directs the company’s utility marketing efforts and the release of products and technology.