Corpus Christi (TX) is a city on the leading edge.
We’ve received nationwide attention for forward-looking programs as diverse as water-conservation education and Wi-Fi communications.
The city’s innovations are always part of continuing efforts to improve citizen life and services. Recently, we implemented automatic meter reading (AMR) to improve customer service and save our taxpayers’ money.
The city had always read meters the old fashioned way – using workers who entered homes and businesses and actually looked at the meter dials.
Unfortunately, our meter readers were often unable to get into locations, or were confronted with hazardous circumstances while doing their jobs.
What’s more, the city wasn’t able to accurately measure precise usage of gas and water – two commodities that become more expensive each year. We knew that estimated meter readings were imprecise, but we were unable to improve accuracy within the confines of our traditional system.
We seriously considered two methods – mobile and fixed-network – to collect meter readings and transfer them to the city’s central computer billing and monitoring network. Mobile systems gather readings using antennaequipped
trucks that are driven on monthly routes through neighborhoods. These readings are then uploaded to the main computer. Fixed-network systems use a series of data collectors to automatically gather readings from each meter several times a day, sending them to a central computer network.
Choosing the Network
When we started our evaluation, we preferred the idea of using an automated fixed-network system, but thought the mobile system would probably be less expensive. After we reviewed proposals from a number of suppliers, we concluded that the fixed-network solution provided not only the widest range of capabilities but also the lowest lifecycle cost.
The selected vendor, Hexagram, Inc., offered a fixed network system that was proven with deployments in cities such as Boston and Washington (DC). Hexagram’s STAR system could have utilized any number of network alternatives for transmitting information from its’ data collectors to our billing system including Wi-Fi, fiber-optics, and cellular signal. In our case, we are using the Wi-FI system we put in place to provide wireless computer access to our fire, EMS, police forces and citizens.
Beyond the fact that Hexagram’s system was Wi-Fi compatible and proven, we were also drawn to the reliability of its communications system that uses a licensed frequency and provides a high level of redundancy in data collection.
Status and Outlook
Our installation of the Hexagram system is approximately thirty percent complete. Both the installation and operation of the system have been straightforward. When the program is completed, the city will employ 100 data collection units to provide readings for all of our water and gas meters. Eventually, we will use AMR to enhance our water conservation efforts by pinpointing abnormal usage, an indicator of undiscovered leaks, so that problems can be repaired before too much water is wasted. We also plan to improve customer service by allowing residents to access their utility bills and other records through the internet.
The city anticipates its new AMR system will save approximately $1.6 million over 20 years in direct meterreading costs, with more savings anticipated as we expand customer service and conservation benefits to our citizens. In addition, the Wi-Fi network, on which the AMR system operates, also will generate revenue for the city. Earthlink recently paid the city approximately $5 million for the network, and will pay over $300,000 per year for the first ten years in franchise fees and other revenues.
For further information about Corpus Christi’s AMR implementation, contact Leonard Scott, MIS Business Unit Manager Corpus Christi, at 361- 826-3772 or send e-mail to [email protected].