Special Report | Achieving accurate water meter readings

Special Report | Achieving accurate water meter readings

Deer Technology tells LABM how the retrofit installation of its LimpetReader technology helped a Stretford leisure centre gain accurate, timely water meter readings. 

Located in Stretford, Manchester, the Stretford Chester Centre has a multifunctional gym and studio, a ladies’ gym, a 25-metre swimming pool, a small swimming pool and a sports hall. The leisure complex, together with others in the borough, is operated by Trafford Leisure Community Interest Company Ltd (Trafford Leisure) on behalf of the local authority. In order to keep membership fees and prices as low as possible, expenditure has to be very tightly controlled. One area where Trafford Leisure felt it could improve matters was the cost of a critical utility at the Stretford Chester Centre: water.

All water consumption at the Stretford Chester Centre is currently measured using a meter that is located down a manhole on another business’ property — and the manhole is frequently flooded. The meter is therefore difficult to read manually, so Trafford Leisure was unable to obtain reliable consumption data from either the water retailer or wholesaler. In any case, to gain a meaningful understanding of consumption patterns and costs, Trafford Leisure wanted meter readings taken more frequently than would be possible manually.

Consumption can vary enormously: so estimated water bills will be invariably inaccurate. Furthermore, on the rare occasions when bills were based on visual reads, they could be unexpectedly high. Such an arrangement is very frustrating for a company wishing to maintain tight control over expenditure.

The water meter does not have a reliable pulse output, so a conventional AMR (automatic meter reading) system cannot be retrofitted. Although it would have been possible to replace the meter with one suitable for use with AMR, this has major downsides. First, it would be disruptive and expensive to interrupt the supply and replace the meter. Second, this type of AMR system would result in Trafford Leisure incurring considerable ongoing charges for access to the water consumption data.

Accessing water consumption data
Fortunately, today there is another option that is quick and easy to install without interrupting the supply, and with minimal ongoing costs. Developed by Deer Technology Ltd, the patented LimpetReader attaches to the meter’s faceplate using optically clear adhesive or tape, leaving the register visible in case a manual read is required. The solution incorporates a row of three miniature cameras that capture images of the register at time intervals agreed with the customer. These images are then sent to an AutoReader device located nearby. 

Depending on the circumstances, the LimpetReader can be connected to the AutoReader wirelessly or, as in the Stretford Chester Centre case, it can be hard-wired. If more than one meter are being monitored, multiple meters can be connected to a single AutoReader.

The AutoReader date- and time-stamps the images and uploads them to Deer Technology’s secure server, where they are stitched together into a high-resolution image of the meter register and translated into a data value. For the Stretford Chester Centre, the customer is the end user (Trafford Leisure) but Deer Technology also installs systems for water retailers and wholesalers. Data can be provided in a variety of ways, ranging from raw data to an API (application programming interface). Various factors influence the costs for the service, such as the way in which data is provided and whether Deer Technology undertakes any analysis. 

Accurate information
For Trafford Leisure, the main priorities were to obtain accurate, timely data and minimise costs, hence raw data is provided via Deer Technology’s secure portal. Trafford Leisure can then import the data into their other systems for further analysis. The reading time frequency can be set remotely and after an initial benchmarking period of hourly reads, it is envisaged that daily/twice daily reads will be taken. Trends can be identified and inaccurate estimated bills from the retailer can be disputed. 

Furthermore, should a leak develop, this can be spotted through a general increase in consumption and, in particular, consumption during the night or when the leisure centre is closed, when there should be none. A leak can soon become very costly, so being able to rectify a leak quickly will more than pay for the LimpetReader system.

Under the terms of the contract with Deer Technology, Trafford Leisure has paid for the hardware and installation, and the annual fee for data access relates to the number of meter reads. The water retailer has also expressed an interest in obtaining monthly meter reads and is currently in discussion with Deer Technology. Unlike other automated meter reading systems, the LimpetReader does not suffer from drift and the readings are classified as ‘visual’, so the retailer would never need to take confirmatory manual readings.

Trafford Leisure is delighted with the new system, benefitting from better data visibility than has ever been possible before. Indeed, such has been the success of the Stretford Chester Centre project that LimpetReader technology is now being rolled out to other facilities managed by Trafford Leisure. In this multi-facility arrangement, usage can readily be compared and action taken if something appears wrong.

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