How Western Municipal Water District Improved Operating Efficiencies with a LoRaWAN AMI Solution

Significant benefits attributed to open network architecture and the availability of IoT applications and devices that can communicate data across the same network

Water is the foundation of life, and it just might be a foundational element for the next wave of utility and municipal innovation too.

As populations have increased, so too have their water needs. Throw in a pandemic where community and safety needs must be addressed, and the demand on the water infrastructure is accelerating. To address these challenges, governments, municipalities and utilities are developing strategic frameworks and comprehensive strategies to manage water resources while ensuring operational safety.

In support of the these initiatives, we’ve worked with a number of partners and water utilities to plan and deploy Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) projects that have proven to improve water metering and establish the foundation for additional innovative water infrastructure and municipal services.

Why LoRaWAN® for AMI Deployments?

Metering and infrastructure monitoring applications tend to not require a lot of bandwidth for data transmission. Instead, what they need is a long battery life to meet the in-field operational requirements of utilities, long range, and the propagation characteristics needed to penetrate often hard to reach places like pits and other below grade environments. Enter LoRaWAN.

In addition to the benefits noted above, one of the more significant advantages of LoRaWAN is the technology architecture and commitment to generational stability. LoRaWAN is architected, and the LoRa Alliance is committed, to support twenty years of stable use in the field. Having a clear understanding of this advantage, compared to 3GPP which turns every five years or so, may help you avoid a scenario like this: City, water utilities at odds with meter company – Company claims expiring network coverage not included in 10-year warranty.

A Smart Start for Smart Water

Western Municipal Water District (Western) in Riverside County, California knew there must be a better way to manage its infrastructure and operations, and in 2018 it began to explore options for an Advanced Metering Infrastructure. It initiated a pilot study of Neptune’s AMI solution which started with reading 100 meters remotely, and revealed a reading success rate of more than 99%. This was the first step toward eliminating drive-by reads for its more than 24,000 retail customer accounts.

Neptune analyzed Western’s current infrastructure, unique business needs, and desired outcomes to ensure Western would have complete coverage across its entire infrastructure, regardless of urban or rural environments. To deploy and deliver LoRaWAN network connectivity services across Western’s selected geography, Neptune partnered with Senet.

Network design and deployment services provided by Senet included the delivery of RF propagation studies based on utility supplied GIS data for installed meter base, site surveys for LoRaWAN gateway installation, and AMI infrastructure installation support. The network build was executed leveraging Senet’s expertise in site acquisition and construction services, and consisted of hybrid commercial and municipal tower assets, including solar powered sites. It was completed in less than 90 days.

Once implemented, Western was able to begin installing meters at will, enabling it to aggressively change out old meters that were most likely to produce inaccurate readings. By October 2020, Western completed Phase 1 of the installation which connected 13,600 meters. In Phase 2, Western plans to complete an additional 7,000 meter change-outs, reading close to 85% of meters by mid-2021.

Key benefits realized by Western include:

  • Cost savings through the elimination of 3rd Party meter reading contracts
  • Reduction in water loss from 12% to less than 3.5%
  • The ability to provide customers with “leak alerts”
  • Elimination of re-reads for high readings
  • Improved employee morale gained by delivering better customer service and dispute resolution
  • Reduced Carbon footprint by eliminating drive-by meter reading

To assist with ongoing and optimal service delivery, Senet provides Neptune with core network operations, Radio Access Network (RAN) and end-device performance monitoring and management, visual tools and triggered alarms.

“With fixed network data collections, we don’t have to use a third party or send out staff as often anymore,” said Kevin Mascaro, Western Municipal Water District’s Director of Finance. “Reading turnaround time has dramatically been improved. We’ve experienced a significant overall gain in efficiency.”

“Now that we’re replacing all meters with LoRaWAN-equipped Neptune meters, we have really detailed data coming in multiple times a day,” Mascaro added.

Expanding Beyond AMI

Western’s AMI solution will not only benefit the utility, but because of LoRaWAN’s open architecture, other Smart Water and Smart City IoT applications can be connected to the same network in Riverside. This means there is a significant opportunity to improve water infrastructure and operational efficiencies across the area, contributing to sustainability and community initiatives that were previously seen as impossible or too costly to implement.

This isn’t an anomaly. AMI is drawing significant interest as utilities seek to navigate the surging demand for safe and secure water delivery while upgrading aging infrastructure.

As those AMI initiatives are established, they’re becoming an entry point for large-scale IoT deployments that utilities and municipalities can build on. Once implemented, utilities and municipalities can leverage a LoRaWAN network in other ways, such as controlling valves, monitoring water quality, pumps, employee safety and more.

As municipalities realize they have a carrier-grade network available to them, Smart City applications like managing streetlights, smart parking, waste management and asset tracking suddenly begin to reveal themselves. And businesses within those regions also see benefits by quickly gaining the ability to monitor their buildings, rooms and the infrastructure within them.

These opportunities will only continue to accelerate in tandem with the scale of deployments. When a LoRaWAN network reaches a large enough scale – like those for AMI –  its possibilities seem limitless.

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