In Part One of our Selecting a Submetering System series, we focused on all of the factors you should consider when choosing which meters to use. For Part Two, we will discuss the other primary component of a submetering project: the read system.
Read system can refer to various types of technology but for the purpose of this article we’ll focus on Automatic Meter Reading (AMR) solutions, which are common in apartments, water districts, condos, manufactured housing and retail applications. An AMR system is designed to work with a meter to transmit the meter information from the meter back to a central data collection point. This improves the accuracy of readings (no manual meter reading mistakes), and allows for an automated stream of data to help analyze consumption patterns, watch for leaks, and very importantly eliminate the need for access into a unit to physically write down the meter reading.
There are plenty of factors to consider when selecting an AMR system and in this article we will address some of these factors and help provide useful questions to ask when assessing and comparing read systems.
Proprietary vs. Non-proprietary Systems
When we refer to proprietary systems, we are talking about systems which do not provide full access to data without the use of specialized equipment or tools, or additional charges for utilizing the system. This is very important, as many AMR systems have hidden fees or complicated structures to obtain data and ongoing costs which surprise owners and managers down the road. In our opinion, once you purchase metering equipment, anyone should be able to read the equipment, obtain data feeds and reporting, and service the equipment, without significant costs to do so. Here is a list of important questions to ask before purchasing your next AMR system
Are there any ongoing costs associated with obtaining reads from this system? Most systems will need an internet connection, phone or cell, or some way to get information out, but some systems go beyond this and charge fees for actually getting the readings.
If I want to change my service provider, can the system be easily redirected so there is no interruption in data? Some systems have server and software requirements, creating a barrier of entry for many companies to read the equipment. For example, some companies promote meters and AMR equipment which require a specialized software and dedicated servers. So, when the owner of the property decides to read the system in-house or change billing service providers, they find out there are limited choices because the cost to set up the server can be very expensive; from tens of thousands of dollars, to much more. Some of these systems are outstanding in quality and longevity, but many are not. In any case, it’s important to understand your options and potential costs prior to making a choice. The last thing you want to do is spend a lot of upfront capital, only to be pinned down to one service provider or additional costs.
What specialized equipment is needed to repair this equipment? This is a particularly important consideration if you plan to install and maintain the equipment yourself, but also important if you choose to have a service provider maintain the system. Some equipment is programmable with readily available equipment such as smartphones, tablets and laptops, while other equipment requires expensive handheld devices or specialized training to service the equipment. This is important to consider when thinking about the long term costs of servicing the equipment. In addition, the more specialized the system is to maintain, the more difficult it can be to locate trained service professionals.
Longevity - How long does this system last?
This is very important, as many meters and AMR systems have different life cycles and expectations for performance. It’s important to ask how long the system will last with standard maintenance costs. What is the expected life cycle of the system? Should you plan on replacing the entire system in 5, 10 or 15 years? Many outdoor systems have battery powered electronics, which must be sealed to withstand outdoor conditions, and typically need replacing when they fail because the batteries cannot be replaced.
It’s important to understand how long the system is intended to last and be prepared for the replacement cycle. As a starting out point, any system should be able to provide 10 years of solid service, with a good ongoing maintenance plan. Many meters and AMR systems can read much longer than 10 years, but many cannot, so it’s important to ask up front.
Required Data - What data do I need to see and how often do we need this data?
The type of meter and frequency of the AMR system pulling, pushing, compiling and communicating this data will determine how granular that data will be. While some meters have different outputs, many AMR systems also have different reporting capabilities.
For example, some AMR systems come with 5-15 minute meter readings available for more complicated billing methods and analyzing data. However, many apartment communities are only looking for daily readings for straightforward billing methods, so it’s not necessary to install a system with interval data and advanced analytics. It’s best to start with a simple list of factors important to you, followed by a nice-to-have list with priority levels established. This can prevent going down a rabbit-hole of technical jargon and specialized systems which can cloud your selection process.
For information about choosing the right meters for your submetering system, read Part One. If you have any questions about selecting the best read system for your project, or would like assistance is comparing system options, please contact us and we will be happy to help.