RTP, NC - June 2, 2023
For almost 200 years, water utilities have depended on mechanical meters for residential and commercial billing and other flow measurement purposes. Mechanical meters have always been perceived as cost-effective, particularly by budget-conscious (or budget-constrained) municipalities. However, as technologies have advanced, so has the understanding of the long-term costs associated with mechanical metering. In addition, as sustainability, climate change resilience, and the overall increasing cost of water have come into focus in recent years, the needs of water utilities and their customers have shifted.
Meter data is being used to drive conservation efforts and reduce operating costs, among other goals. As such, while mechanical meters can sometimes be more affordable up front, their lack of accuracy makes them more expensive in the long run. To adapt to the needs of the modern era, water utilities need to convert to static meters.
What Are Static Meters?
Mechanical meters, by definition, use moving parts to measure flow, such as an impeller, piston, or similar mechanism. Static meters use no moving parts. The two main static metering technologies are electromagnetic meters (mag meters) and ultrasonic. Mag meters generate a magnetic field which measures the flow of naturally occurring ions in the water. This allows for hyper-accurate measurement down to 0.03 gallons per minute (gpm). Ultrasonic meters use transducers to send a sound wave across the flow tube. By measuring how the speed of sound changes, it can determine the flow rate of water. While both static technologies are more accurate than mechanical meters, mag meters are ideal for residential applications, as they use continuous measurement rather than sampling.
Overall, static meters offer a range of values over mechanical meters, all of which can help water utilities better position themselves for today’s (and tomorrow’s) unique challenges.
Both commercial and residential consumers are becoming increasingly concerned with their water usage. In the commercial space, reducing water usage is as much about sustainability as it is about reducing costs. Either way, customers are increasingly likely to call water utilities and ask for detailed information about their usage. Mechanical meters are limited in the amount of data they can provide. Static meters are far more precise and can be leveraged to provide a near real-time look at how water is being consumed.
In addition to having higher accuracy, static meters also do not suffer the same level of wear as mechanical meters. Without moving parts, static meters have no components that can suffer from corrosion, dirt buildup, or debris. Most static meters are covered by warranties for around 20 years,while mechanical meters are typically warrantied based on usage, i.e., around 500,000 gallons.
Reduced Non-Revenue Water (NRW).
The increased accuracy of static meters means that utilities are able to capture and bill for more usage. As customers transition to high-efficiency appliances and shower heads for their own purposes, mechanical meters can often under-report total consumption. Over time, this amount of NRW can add up, costing utilities untold amounts of money. Additionally, as mechanical meters moving parts wear out, their accuracy declines even further. Since static meters do not have moving parts, their high accuracy is unaffected over time, ensuring that utilities continue to capture even the most efficient appliances and the smallest leaks throughout their entire lifespan.
The increase in extreme and unpredictable weather patterns over the past few decades has challenged water utilities nationwide. Whether it’s freezing temperatures in Texas, multi-year droughts on the West Coast, or heat waves in the northeast, water utilities need near real-time visibility into their network. Some modern static meters can also send temperature and pressure readings, which allows operators to watch the system for weather-related complications. This kind of advanced warning can help utilities anticipate the potential for pipe bursts and other problems, avoiding or mitigating the risk of an interruption in service or water quality issue.
Build A Modern Workforce.
In order to reap these benefits, water utilities will need the right skills. Transitioning from mechanical meters to a static meter-based advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) and associated software presents an opportunity to attract digitally savvy young workers. In addition, by moving away from manual reads and truck rolls, utilities can potentially reduce their fleet size, saving money on insurance, maintenance, and rising fuel costs. All this helps modernize their workforce and ensure that the utility is well equipped to meet the needs of its customers today and in the decades to come.
Mechanical meters have been used by water utilities for 200 years, but their long-term costs and lack of accuracy make them less viable in the modern era. Water utilities who implement static meters will see reduced operating costs, better customer service, higher accuracy and increased longevity of meters.