New automated water meters are now in place for more than 90% of San Francisco’s 178,000 water accounts. The new technology transmits hourly water consumption data to our billing system by wireless network, and we are the first major water utility in California to fully deploy it. This accurate and frequent water usage information allows you to monitor use and detect leaks faster than possible with the existing manually-read meters. Our representatives are already assisting callers with the automated meter data, and a new web portal to provide customers with secure access to their billing and meter readings will be online later this year. Extensive quality assurance testing to ensure the meters accuracy has been underway throughout the installation program, the majority of which will be completed by summer 2013.
Automated Water Meter Program FAQ’s
1. How do Automated Water Meters work?
We deploy the Aclara Fixed Network AMI STAR® System, using a wireless fixed network system that has three components:
- Meter Transmission Unit (MTU): This unit is factory connected to the water meter and “reads” the meter every hour. Every six hours, it sends its information to a Data Collection Unit.
- Data Collection Unit (DCU). A total of 81 DCUs are located throughout the city on our facilities and City-owned poles and rooftops. The DCUs transmit the meter readings to the SF Water, Power and Sewer’s Network Control Computer.
- AMI Network Control Computer (NCC): The SFPUC billing system will use this information to calculate the amount of water used and create bills. Later this year, the data from the NCC will also be made available to customers on our website.
2. How are the readings transmitted through the system?
The meter readings are sent through the automated network using a private radio frequency (RF) channel from the meter box to the data collectors, and using a cellular data network from the data collectors to the AMI computer. The signals used to transmit data from Automated Water Meters are much weaker than those from many everyday devices, such as cell phone and baby monitors. In addition to being very low power, Automated Water Meters transmit radio signals only once every 6 hours, with each transmission lasting less than one-tenth of a second.
We have partnered with the Department of Public Health (DPH) to complete an evaluation of RF transmission levels associated with the Automated Water Meter System. This evaluation confirmed that the signals used in Automated Water Meter technology are well below government limits with respect to human exposure to RF energy. The full report can be downloaded at the bottom of this page.
3. What are the benefits of the Automated Water Meter system?
The Automated Water Meter system will directly benefit us and our customers. The system reduces our operating costs for meter reading and billing, and improves customer service through:
- Timely detection of high usage and suspected leaks
- Call resolution improvement–customer service representatives will have access to more frequent and accurate water consumption data
- Improved meter reading ability, virtual elimination of any bill estimations
4. How did water meter reading work beforethe automated system implementation?
Prior to automated water meter deployment, most residential water meters in San Francisco were read once every two months and commercial meters are read every month. This was accomplished manually with regular visits from meter readers. This labor intensive and infrequent reading process makes it difficult to detect silent leaks, which can result in significant water loss and high water/sewer bills for customers. The manual meter reading system also results in bill estimations when physical meter reads cannot be obtained due to inaccessibility from parked cars, covered meter boxes, or other obstructions. The automated water meter system eliminates both of these issues by collecting more frequent consumption data and immediately flagging surges in water consumption or continuous water consumption for leak detection.
5. Will the new Automated Water Meters be accurate?
We are taking extensive measures to ensure that your new water meter is accurate. The water meter testing includes two steps:
1st Step - Manufacturer Testing. All water meters are shipped from the manufacturer with positive testing results in accordance with American Water Works Association (AWWA) standards before they are sent to San Francisco.
2nd Step - Our Testing. Following receipt of each shipment, we test up to a random 10% of that shipment at our own certified testing facilities before approving them for installation.
Furthermore, after installation we will ensure that the automated system is transmitting your meter reads accurately through a two step quality assurance program:
1st Step - Quality Assurance Audits. We conduct quality assurance audits on a random 5% of automated meters after installation. During these audits our field staff will manually read the water meter dials and check them against the automated reading sent to our computer system.
2nd Step - Visual Verification. We additionally conduct at least one manual meter reading cycle checking the water meter dial readings against the computer system for EVERY automated meter installed.
In addition to being reliable and accurate, your new meter will also be more precise. The new water meters will measure water consumption down to a cubic-foot of usage (approximately 7.48 gallons). Previously your meter readings were collected for every 100 cubic feet (748 gallons).
6. Has this technology been tested?
We have confidently chosen Aclara RF technology for its Automated Water Meters. This system has been in use for over 13 years and is proven to work. Boston, Washington DC, Beverly Hills, and Kansas City are a few examples of cities that are successfully using the same meter reading system that we have chosen. New York City and Toronto are also deploying the same technology for their customers.
7. What information will be transmitted, and is my account information secure?
The automated water meter system transmits only the water meter readings, the meter identification number, and diagnostic information to verify that the meter is operating correctly. Personal customer information is not transmitted as it is not a part of the meter information or reads. For additional security, the data is encoded and transmitted over a privately licensed RF channel.
8. Who will install the new meters?
We and our contractors, Grid One Solutions (Formerly VSI Meter Services), are installing the automated meters. An additional contractor specializing in large meter installations, WMS, is installing meters for commercial and large multi-family residential accounts. Installers will wear distinctive uniforms, carry photo identification and drive vehicles clearly marked as part of our Automated Water Meter Program. Any customers seeking verification of a specific installation worker may contact the Grid One Solutions Call Center at 877-836-6444.
9. Will my service be disrupted?
Customers may experience a temporary disruption of water service during installation, typically lasting 10-15 minutes for smaller residential meters and 2-3 hours for large and commercial meters. The SFPUC and Grid One take several steps in attempt to notify customers of the meter exchange prior to disruption of water service. This includes a postcard which is sent to the building at least 2 weeks in advance of the work and an on-site contact attempt prior to the meter exchange (i.e., door knock and/or bell ring). For larger and commercial buildings, a flyer with the water disruption notification will also be taped to the front door of the building the business day prior to the exchange to notify building occupants or users of the upcoming water disruption date and time.
10. Will the installers need to come into my house?
About 95% of the water meters are located in underground vaults in the sidewalk or driveway and customers do not need to be present during installation. In these cases, installation workers will NOT need to disturb customers other than to attempt to inform any customers present in the home or business that there will be a temporary disruption in their water service during installation. At locations where installation workers must enter the premise to perform the meter upgrade, the SFPUC or Grid One Solutions will contact the customer to request access. If you would like to schedule an appointment please call 877-836-6444.
11. Am I required to have an automated water meter?
Yes, we plan to install an automated water meter for all of our customers. If you have questions or concerns about the installation schedule please contact Catania Galván, firstname.lastname@example.org or call 415-554-3236.
12. Will I see my bill go up?
Whenever a new meter is installed, either an automated water meter or a manual read water meter, there is a chance that your bill may increase. Most of the water meters in San Francisco are more than 20 years old, and at the end of their functional life. As meters age, their accuracy begins to decline. The new meter will accurately reflect your consumption.
13. Will I be able to see my water usage online?
A customer web interface is being developed so that with internet access you will be able to read your detailed water consumption data. A Customer Service Representative will be able to discuss the data with you. We anticipate that the launch of this interface will take place in mid to late 2013.