What’s a compound meter?

In the last Utility Information Pipeline, I wrote about the pros and cons of metering individual premises. That article went on to briefly mention the possibly needing a compound meter, if a master meter were to be installed. So, what exactly is a compound meter…?

Compound meters

Compound meters (sometimes referred to as high/low meters because they have high and low flow sides) are used in situations where large volumes of water need to be metered, but at other times slower flows must also be recorded.

Such a scenario could be a large, multi-unit apartment building or a hotel that must be able to meter high usage first thing in the morning, when many residents are showering at the same time, but also measure low flows in the middle of night to record the occasional toilet flush. A manufacturing plant that uses large volumes of water while the plant is in operation, and minimal usage at other times, is another example of a prime candidate for a compound meter.

The Alliance for Water Efficiency has a good, easy to understand description of compound meters in this article.

For billing purposes, with compound meters, two sets of meter readings are taken – a larger meter for the high flows (the “high side”) and another, smaller meter, for the low flows (the “low side”). The usages are then added together and the customer is billed for the combined usage.

Don’t be fooled

The “high side” of a compound meter may not always be the higher reading of the two. The high side could have already rolled over, and have a lower reading, or there could be relatively little high demand. In the latter case, most of the water used would be metered by the “low side”.

Does your billing system support compound meters?

Many older billing systems don’t properly support compound meters. Some require creating two accounts – one for the high side meter and another for the low side meter. Others require manipulating the readings before entering them as a single, combined meter.

If your billing system doesn’t easily handle compound meters, it may be time for a change. If you’re in this situation, please give me a call at 919-232-2320 or e-mail me at gsanders@logicssolutions.com to learn how a business review could benefit your utility.

Click here to subscribe to my free, bi-weekly email newsletter...

© 2017 Gary Sanders

Do you or don’t you…?

…meter individual premises?

Many of the ideas for Utility Information Pipeline articles come from personal experience working with utilities. My second best source of ideas is from listservs I subscribe to. This topic falls into the latter category.

Policy deviation question

About a year ago, a listserv question was posed asking about the pros and cons of deviating from the utility’s policy of metering all single family residences individually and allowing a townhouse development to install a master meter. The homeowner’s association would be responsible for the bill for the master meter.

Pros of master metering

Obviously, the big advantage to a single master meter over multiple individual meters is that the utility only has one meter to maintain, read, and bill. Depending on the number of residences in the development, it is also likely a single, larger meter would be less expensive to purchase and install than many individual, smaller meters.

Cons of master metering

The list of disadvantages is a much longer list…

First of all, if you have to turn the water off for non-payment, you don’t have just one angry person, you have many. Even though, in this scenario, the customer is the homeowner’s association, the reality is you have a public relations nightmare and, if you are a local government, many irate citizens.

If you ever have to enact water conservation measures in the event of a drought, a single master meter makes it impossible to determine who is and who isn’t abiding by the conservation restrictions.

Likewise, if there is a leak within a residence, there is no way to know which occupant is experiencing the leak. Similarly, if there is a leak in the piping on the customer’s side of the meter, there is no way to determine where the leak is.

Finally, depending on the number of units and the size of the master meter, a compound meter would most likely be required to accurately register low flows such as toilet flushes in the middle of the night.

Recommendation

My recommendation in this situation would be that the utility not deviate from their policy. After all, isn’t that why you have policies in the first place – to determine how to handle situations like this?

Is it time to update your policies?

If it’s been a while since you’ve updated your policies, please give me a call at 919-232-2320 or e-mail me at gsanders@logicssolutions.com to learn how a business review could benefit your utility.

Click here to subscribe to my free, bi-weekly email newsletter...

© 2017 Gary Sanders

Estimated meter reading survey results

If you remember, the last Utility Information Pipeline included a short survey asking how your utility handles estimated meter readings. Readers representing 15 utilities responded to the survey and this issue includes an analysis of their responses.

Primary method of reading meters

The first survey question asked what the utility’s primary method of reading meters is. Here is a graph of those responses (clicking on any of the charts will open a larger graphic in a new window):

As you can see, the overwhelming response was drive-by AMR systems. Based on my experience, I don’t feel this is representative of all utilities, but this is what the survey is based on.

Reasons for estimating meter readings

The second question asked for what reasons do utilities estimate meter readings. Here are the results (the total responses exceed 15 because many utilities estimate for multiple reasons):

I was pleased to see that none of the respondents estimate readings as a routine practice rather than reading each billing period.

Limiting consecutive estimates

The third question asked “If you estimate because of inaccessible meters, do you have a limit to the number of consecutive estimates before you require the occupant to provide access to the meter?”. Here are the responses from the seven utilities that estimate due to inaccessible meters:

Of the five utilities that limit the number of estimates, none allow more than two consecutive estimates before requiring the customer provide access to the meter:

Monthly threshold for estimates

The next question asked if the utility has a monthly threshold for which they consider estimated readings to be excessive. Here are the responses to that question:

If you read the last Utility Information Pipeline, you know this all started because a professional colleague contacted me inquiring if I knew of an industry standard for estimated meter readings.

Surprisingly, only two utilities have a monthly threshold. The good news is they both responded with a threshold of two percent, which is the number I had provided to my colleague.

Creative responses

The final question asked the respondents to describe any creative ways they deal with estimated meter readings.

Most of the responses to this question described the utilities’ policies for calculating estimates, but one response was my favorite…

“When customers refuse to provide access to meters after multiple notifications we increase the estimated amount.”

What better way to get your customer to cooperate and provide access to their meter than to estimate their usage on the high side. We all know customers will respond to a higher than normal bill!

Free rates webinar

I’ve written previously about rates dashboards from the Environmental Finance Center at UNC. This Thursday, March 16 at 2:00pm, staff from the EFC and the North Carolina League of Municipalities will present a free webinar presenting the State of Rates in North Carolina and the 2017 update to the North Carolina Water and Wastewater Rates Dashboard.

Click here to register for the free webinar.

Do your meter reading practices need review?

If you want to reduce the number of estimates, or otherwise improve your meter reading process, please give me a call at 919-232-2320, or email me at gsanders@logicssolutions.com for more information about how a business review could help.

Click here to subscribe to my free, bi-weekly email newsletter...

© 2017 Gary Sanders

What is an acceptable percentage of estimated readings?

I’m originally from upstate New York, where water meters are located in basements or cellars to keep them from freezing. The small town where I grew up operated a water system and, with limited staff, frequently estimated meter readings. My mother was aware of this and, after several billing periods without her meter being read, was convinced they were overestimating her usage. So she called and made arrangements for the meter reader to come and read her meter. Much to her chagrin, they had been underestimating her reading all those months and her next water bill was much higher than the bills she thought were already excessive!

 
Estimated meter reading
 

An inquiry from a colleague

Last year, I had a professional colleague contact me with the following questions:

“Do you by chance know if there is an industry standard for estimated meter reads?  I know you would want this number to be as low as possible but is there an industry target that would indicate a utility’s meter reading capabilities?”

My response was:

“I’m not aware of any industry standard for estimated meter readings. Off the top of my head, I would think anything greater than about 2% would be excessive unless there were extenuating circumstances (such as snow in an area like ours in North Carolina where utilities aren’t prepared to read in that kind of weather).”

This is where you get to help…

Previous Utility Information Pipelines have addressed meter reading best practices and alternating actual readings and estimates as a way of reducing costs, but none have addressed routine estimates.

In order to better answer my colleague’s question, I’ve put together a short survey asking how your utility handles estimated meter readings. Please take a few minutes to complete the survey by clicking here.

The results of the survey will be published in the next Utility Information Pipeline.

Do you need to review your meter reading practices?

If your meter reading could be improved upon, please give me a call at 919-232-2320, or email me at gsanders@logicssolutions.com for more information about how a business review could help.

Click here to subscribe to my free, bi-weekly email newsletter...

© 2017 Gary Sanders

Spring forward, fall back

As most of us entered daylight saving time slightly over a week ago, and the first day of spring was only two days ago, has your utility made preparations for spring?

Just as your local fire department encourages everyone to replace smoke detector batteries, the start and end of daylight saving time should bring about housekeeping chores in your office as well.

Seasonally adjusted high/low parameters

As temperatures warm in the spring and cool off in the fall, your customers’ usage patterns adjust according to the season. With this in mind, if your billing system determines out of range meter readings by applying high and low percentages to your customers’ average usage, you should seasonally adjust those high and low parameters.

Energy utilities

If your utility is an energy supplier (electricity or natural gas), spring marks the transition from winter heating season to more moderate temperatures, and less energy usage. Therefore, it makes sense to adjust the high and low limits down in the spring and back up in the fall.

Water utilities

Conversely, for water providers, spring brings about more watering of lawns and gardens and increased usage. Accordingly, you should adjust the high and low limits for water consumption up in the spring and back down in the fall.

Does your meter reading process need reviewing?

If your utility doesn’t seasonally adjust high and low meter reading parameters, or if you think any other internal process could be improved, please give me a call at 919-232-2320 or e-mail me at gsanders@logicssolutions.com to learn how a business review could help your utility.

Don’t miss your chance

In a recent issue, I introduced the Utility Staffing Survey. This survey is designed to determine what is adequate staffing for a utility office. If you haven’t already completed the survey and would like to participate, please click here to complete the Utility Staffing Survey. This should take less than five minutes to complete. I will publish the results in a future Utility Information Pipeline.

Thank you in advance for taking the time to complete the survey. Please feel free to share the survey with your peers at other utilities.

Click here to subscribe to my free, bi-weekly e-mail newsletter...

© 2016 Gary Sanders

Poll results and vacant accounts

The last issue revisited how the number of days between meter readings and sending bills can adversely contribute to increased days of exposure.

Poll results

That issue included a poll asking how many days pass between reading meters and mailing bills. Twenty utilities responded, and here are the results of that poll:

If you missed the poll, you can click here to take it.

If your utility is one that mails bills within two or three days of reading meters, congratulations, you’ve figured out how to do it efficiently!

If your utility falls in the four to seven day range, this is what I would call normal – there’s room for improvement, but it’s not excessive.

However, if your utility takes eight or more days, as the majority of the responses, I consider this to be excessive. I would encourage you to evaluate why it takes so long and see if you can find room for improvement. If you can’t figure out how to reduce the time between reading and billing on your own, please give me a call to see how a business review could assist you.

Reading inactive meters

While we’re on the topic of meter readings, let’s revisit reading inactive meters for vacant accounts, a topic I touched on briefly while discussing meter reading best practices.

From the best I can tell, in most cases the practice of not reading inactive meters is a symptom of the TTWWADI syndrome

From the best I can tell, in most cases the practice of not reading inactive meters is a symptom of the TTWWADI syndrome, dating back to when most utilities read meters on paper and entered them manually. Not reading inactive meters was thought to be a time saving tactic for both the meter readers and office staff.

With the advent of handhelds and automated meter reading systems, there is no reason not to read inactive meters. Reading inactive meters is your best tool for detecting customers who may have moved into a vacant home without properly initiating service. For water utilities, it’s also the best way to determine if there is a leak at a vacant property.

Do you read inactive meters?

Does your utility read inactive meters? Please take a moment to to take this quick poll and I’ll publish the results in the next issue.

Do you operate as efficiently as possible?

If you aren’t sure your utility is operating as efficiently as it could be, please give me a call at 919-232-2320 or e-mail me at gsanders@logicssolutions.com to learn how a business review could help your utility.

Click here to subscribe to my free, bi-weekly e-mail newsletter...

© 2015 Gary Sanders