Source: Cambridge Times (April 21, 2020)

Written by: Ray Martin

As COVID-19 paralyzes many operations across the city, the municipality is continuing with some installations of smart water meters to improve the efficiency and reliability of the water system.

“With the City’s Smart Metering Program we have had to put a hold on most of the planned work to help stop the spread of COVID-19,” said Mike Parsons, city director of public works.

"We have asked ICONIX, our primary smart meter installer, to pause all activity except for any work that could be completed without the need for any public interaction."

The new smart meters will use advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) to provide remote water meter readings, data analysis and proactive issue detection.

The city-wide installation is taking place in several stages, with the first already underway.

But the full rollout is now uncertain due to the COVID-19 lockdown.

“The program was supposed to be completed by the end of 2020," explained Parsons.

"However, approximately 50 per cent of our installations have been put on hold until we are able to enter homes again, which is likely when the province declares the state of emergency over. At that point we will need around 10 to 12 months to finish our field work.”

As the city and its contractor wait out the pandemic, some work is still going ahead outside residences.

However, the contractor, ICONIX Waterworks, and the city are following revised procedures to install the new radio transmitters on home exteriors.

This means ICONIX installers will contact homeowners by telephone, after an appointment is made by the homeowner, at the start of the installation.

The radio transmitter will then be installed over top of the existing meter-reading touchpad. Once the work is completed, the installer will leave a notice on the front door of the residence.

There will be no direct contact, no water disruptions and no action will be required by homeowners.

The rnstallations will take place weekdays from 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. in April and May in the first phase of the program.

According to a city report, the Advanced Metering Infrastructure will create a smart water metering system in which data is fed back to the city, providing near real-time readings.

It will eliminate the need for meter readers and allow customers to view their water consumption in near real time. Notifications can also be sent warning homeowners of possible leaks or of higher consumption rates.

In addition, work is continuing on development of back-end functions like the customer portal and analytical tools.

“This means anyone who already has one of these devices installed should (soon) be able to access the customer tools,” Parsons said.

As well as providing near real-time information on water use for customers, the new system will allow the city to monitor for leaks across the water system.

“This is one of the benefits we plan on leveraging as soon as we can,” Parsons said.

Through the installation of smart “zone meters” on strategic parts of the water system city staff will be able to measure the bulk supply of water to an area, like a subdivision, and compare the bulk volume delivered over time to customers for the same period.

If the bulk supply exceeds the granular sum, city staff will investigate the area to determine the source of the discrepancies and resolve them.

“This helps us stop loss more aggressively and will lead to overall savings,” he said.

By working to plug leaks in the system, the city was able through conventional methods to reduce water consumption and water treatment by one per cent in 2019 and anticipates further reducing the cost of buying water from Waterloo Region and the reducing the amount of water treated by the region by a further one per cent in 2020.

“Once fully implemented, we are expecting the smart meters to provide a similar benefit each year,” Parsons said.