The Albany, Ga. Water, Gas & Light Commission is now reading nearly all of its residential gas, water and electric meters and a portion of its commercial meters via mobile automated meter reading technology from Itron, Inc. As of Aug. 1, the utility has automated the meter reading process for more than 80,000 meters, through a business arrangement facilitated by Hometown Connections, the utility services subsidiary of the American Public Power Association.
Albany WG&L installed an Itron automated meter reading (AMR) system to download usage data. ERT (encoder,
|The new AMR system will enable Albany Meter Reader Alvin Williams and his colleagues to obtain readings from as many as 20,000 meters a day.
receiver and transmitter) modules installed on the meters enable radio transmission of readings to hand-held devices and a mobile collector, a piece of equipment resembling a laptop computer that gathers readings as the vehicle travels through the territory.
The utility purchased 20 Itron G5R hand-held units for use during the 12-month build-out of the system while the routes were populated with ERTs. The G5Rs can read ERTs or accept data typed in manually by utility personnel. Today, with the vehicle-based Mobile Collector 1.0 unit and the MV-RS route management software up and running, most of the hand-held units have been returned. Due to an increasing customer base, Albany WG&L will be maintaining a growing AMR system that currently has 30,000 electric, 16,000 gas and 34,000 water meters. Because the Mobile Collector 1.0 can read up to 20,000 ERTs in a single day, Albany WG&L is easily capturing the meter data from its 80,000 meters with a single mobile unit.
“We were struggling with a high-rate of turnover among our meter reading staff, and spending large amounts of time training new employees,” said Lee Hauesler, Albany WG&L assistant general manager.” We were also losing revenue to theft and tampering and we were looking at ways to reduce costs across all aspects of utility operations. When we approached our joint action agency in Georgia, MEAG Power, about automating the meter reading process for all of our residential meters, MEAG suggested we turn to Hometown Connections and Itron.”
John Hengesh, vice president and general manager of Itron’s water and public power business unit, said more and more combination utilities—those offering water, gas and electric—are turning to one company for metering needs.
“The successful implementation of the Albany WG&L system is an excellent example of teamwork among commission staff, Hometown Connections, MEAG and Itron,” Hengesh said. “Our company has installed hundreds of AMR systems, and the key to meeting schedule and budget constraints is the utility’s commitment to improving operational efficiency and customer service.
According to Bill Smart, national sales director—west region, Hometown Connections partners with Itron to offer AMR solutions because of the strength and scalability of the Itron system.
|Albany meter readers use Iron’s M/C 1 Mobile Collector and the Itronix Go-Box to collect consumption data.
“Itron products allow utilities to start the automation process at any level and expand the system as budgets and resources permit,” said Smart. “Itron products are ‘meter-neutral,’ offering the widest cross-section of modules to fit most meter types. The MV-RS meter reading software can be configured for utilities that are large or small, serving urban, suburban or rural communities, and providing electric, gas and/or water service. On top of that, Itron has a strong commitment to research and development, as well as customer service.”
Itron is offering an AMR promotion through Hometown Connections that makes it possible for an APPA member to implement an AMR system for the cost of an electronic meter reading system. A small utility may purchase a single-unit hand-held AMR system for under $10,000. This pricing is available to current and new Itron customers that do not have existing ERT deployments. As reported by Bill Smart, “the current Itron promotion is the best opportunity we’ve seen to date for APPA members to maximize their return on the AMR investment.”
The design and installation of the Albany WG&L system required the coordination and cooperation of employees from the utility, Itron, Hometown Connections, MEAG Power, regional meter resellers, and a contractor hiring local people for installing ERTs. Bill Smart of Hometown Connections ordered all of the Itron equipment and software. Albany WG&L hired Itron to manage the meter installation contractor.
Itron’s Rusty Agi was on site at the utility for three or four days per week, overseeing the ordering of equipment and software, the ERT installation and cycle acceptance testing (the ability of the mobile unit to read 99.58 percent of the ERT meters accurately).
Agi described the project as a major milestone for Albany WG&L, requiring the cooperation and support of many people.
“The dedication and commitment to the success of the project by all of the employees at Albany WG&L and
|Albany uses a Badger RTR water meter and an Itron ERT to collect water consumption data.
supporting vendors was as high and professional as any I have ever witnessed,” Agi said.
Many of the calls coming in to Hometown Connections today are from public power systems looking to build out their automated meter reading capabilities. Customer expectations for accurate billing and fast service, coupled with recent municipal budget challenges, are driving APPA members to focus on improving their core business practices. This increase in AMR interest follows with research data collected by APPA. The association’s bi-annual Customer Service Policies Survey asks APPA members, “Do you ‘automatically’ read any meters with computerized equipment, thereby eliminating the meter reader?” Respondents answering “yes” were 7 percent in 1999, 11 percent in 2001 and 19 percent in 2003. The 2003 survey also found that 60 percent of respondents using AMR are using a system from Itron.
“The success of the Albany WG&L AMR project is a prime example of the public power community working together to use breakthroughs in technology to improve the delivery of services to customers,” said APPA President and CEO Alan H. Richardson. “Utility officials, their joint action agency representatives, Hometown Connections staff and Itron employees set a high standard for deploying advances in meter reading and utility management.”