Pennsylvania Smart Meter Replacement Nears Finish Line

As of this week, the Meadville Area Water Authority is 173 water meter replacements away from completing a nine-year replacement effort. The new models can be read wirelessly by staff members driving through the city.

Water meter readings
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(TNS) — Howard Tressler's descent into a cluttered north end basement Monday afternoon took only about 15 minutes, but the brief visit was one leg in a nearly decade-long infrastructure improvement marathon that is rapidly approaching the finish line.

In his two years with Meadville Area Water Authority (MAWA), Tressler has made about 200 similar calls throughout the city to replace water meters — part of the nearly 5,100 such appointments that MAWA staff members have made since the project began in earnest in 2012.
 
"If we can get them done, then it's a lot easier on everybody," Tressler said of the water meter upgrades. "You don't have to walk through people's yards and be going around in the early mornings."
 
As of this week, 173 water meter replacements remain to be completed in the nine-year effort, according to Project Manager Bob Harrington. In contrast to the meters being replaced, the new models can be read wirelessly by staff members driving through the city. The old models could be read from outside structures but a handheld reading device had to be within a few yards of the meter. Staff members often were required to trudge from yard to yard in an effort to get close enough to pick up the signals.
 
On a good day, the new equipment can read some north end meters from as far as a mile away, according to Harrington. Where closely packed downtown buildings reduce signal transmission, staff members can generally collect data by driving down every other street. Wireless data collection began more than a year ago as the conversion process made progress. In a 2019 presentation to the MAWA board, Harrington said the increased efficiency was expected to save the authority about $60,000 each year. This week, Harrington said about $702,000 had been invested in new meters and the equipment needed to read them.
 
"The $64,000 question is: what possessed the water company to do this?" Harrington asked rhetorically. The answer, he said, has to do not only with the improved efficiency and accuracy but also with the expanded data-tracking ability of the new equipment. "It gives us quite a bit of latitude," Harrington said. "We can read the water meter down to the minute."
 
To-the-minute water usage data can, in fact, be useful for customers. In a meter-reading sweep of the city, for instance, MAWA's software can automatically survey high-usage meters, leading the agency to contact customers in the event of significant increases.
 
"For example, if you had an unoccupied structure, I can say to you that from 2 o'clock in the morning till 4 o'clock in the evening on this day, you had high usage," Harrington said. "That would help you to understand whether maybe it's a leaky toilet or maybe it's unauthorized usage."
 
The COVID-19 pandemic interrupted the replacement project for about eight weeks last year. Since then it has gradually gotten back on track and last month Harrington told the MAWA board that crews had swapped out 96 meters in 18 days. The board subsequently approved the purchase of an additional 105 meters for $17,200. The order will bring the authority nearly to the end of its meter replacement journey, with pandemic-related delivery delays expected to draw out the process through the summer.
 
Often the nature of a project like this, especially when it spans nearly a decade, means that by the time new technology is in the field it has been surpassed by even-newer technology. That's not the case with MAWA's new meters, according to Harrington.
 
The meters are generally expected to last about 20 years, which means the earliest ones installed during the latest installment of what Harrington called the "never-ending cycle" of meter replacement should be good for another decade. "Meter replacement never stops," he said.
 
As though to prove Harrington's point, Tressler's departure from one city basement Monday afternoon was the prelude to another replacement a few blocks away.
 
"Slowly but surely they're coming into play," he said.
 
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