With a 2,400 square mile service area and approximately 40,000 customers to serve in southeastern Illinois, EJ Water Cooperative was having difficulties scheduling the nearly 4,000-mile monthly drive to complete a meter reading cycle. The rising cost of their aging system and the need to reduce operating costs prompted the search for a new meter reading system. They had experimented with other water meter reading approaches, but due to the geography of the service area, a traditional fixed network system would not work. When BEACON® Advanced Metering Analytics (AMA) with ORION® Cellular was released in January 2014, EJ Water Cooperative took notice.
A New Technology Offers Great Solutions
Bill Teichmiller, CEO of EJ Water Cooperative was looking for a true water management system to give them real-time usage information. “Electric companies know exactly how much electricity they sell, and we didn’t know exactly how much water we were selling at any given time,” Teichmiller said.
Also, with such a large and dispersed service area, EJ Water had tried satellite-based meter reading and other approaches. “We strive to be on the forefront of technology, and we knew that a cellular solution for our large geographic service area would be the way to go.”
Early in 2014, Badger Meter offered a solution that would provide EJ Water with the water management system and the leading edge technology they were looking for. Enabled by ORION Cellular endpoints, BEACON Advanced Metering Analytics (AMA) provides near real-time water usage information to the utility and the end water customer through the EyeOnWater® smartphone/tablet app. EJ Water purchased two starter kits, and Teichmiller decided to pilot BEACON AMA, starting with its board of directors.
Board Members See the Value
“We installed the system at the board members’ homes to prove the impact this solution could make. Within hours of having the system fully functional, we established that the president of the board had a constant leak of about five or six gallons an hour,” Teichmiller said. After the leak was discovered, they could immediately see when the problem had been fixed using the BEACON AMA software suite without having to send out a crew to investigate the issue. The board of directors was sold and gave the go ahead to install the system on several of the commercial and residential meters in the service area.
The next phase of the installation began with a few residential customers and the largest wholesale customer in the service area. The move was a strategic one — to see the operational cost on a large volume customer. The total cost was $0.03 a day, while yielding $661 in revenue per day. The installation moved forward to residential customers.
Reduction in Work Orders Leads to Savings
To date, 1,900 ORION Cellular endpoints have been installed, and BEACON AMA is deployed over 15% of the service area. Since the start of the installation, EJ Water has reduced man- hours and now has the operational data to resolve customer issues more quickly. Before the system installation, 35% of work orders were customer disputes about usage, and the average cost per work order was $34. With the new system in place, EJ Water Cooperative is able to determine whether there is a leak without having to send a technician to the location thereby reducing the cost per work order. Overall, this has led to a 47% drop in work orders in 2016 and $93,000 a year in savings. Customers are also now more self-sufficient and accountable for their water usage by using EyeOnWater.
“We’ve trained many of our customers to use the mobile app and website so they can check their usage at their leisure,” Teichmiller said. With customer access to near real-time water usage information through the EyeOnWater app, there has been a 20% drop in inbound customer center phone calls. “Customers that have questioned their water usage in the past totally believe the reports on the EyeOnWater app,” Teichmiller said. “The truth is, today’s consumer expects their utilities to provide them with this type of consumption data.”
The new system also provided some unexpected benefits. “We didn’t expect as large of a reduction as we’ve seen in work orders for our field service team,” Teichmiller said. The reduction in man-hours has allowed the Cooperative to make better strategic decisions about upcoming projects and has allowed them to be more proactive in repairing high value assets. The Cooperative was also able to move staff from the field service team to other projects to help finish ahead of schedule. One of those projects is expanding the installation of BEACON AMA. The Cooperative also plans to install the system on all its largest customers in their service area by the end of 2017.