“Small utilities have to be smart”

Överkalix Municipality, Sweden

Överkalix Värmeverk combines traditional fixed network reading of its heat and water meters with inventive drive-by reading via a garbage truck. The result is extremely efficient meter reading at a minimum of costs and resources – and a huge potential as the basis for future optimisations.

With only few employees and 2,050 metering points scattered across 2,900 km2, Överkalix Värmeverk has always focused on using their limited resources as efficiently as possible. This is reflected in the utility’s new metering solution which is as brilliant as it is simple. 

The perfect meter reading mix
In the central part of Överkalix, all water and heat meters are read automatically with Kamstrup’s READy network solution and four antennas placed on the church tower. 

In the more remote parts of the supply area, a garbage truck equipped with a concentrator collects the rest of the readings – at no extra cost or additional effort from the truck driver.

He simply drives the truck around as usual and the nearby meters are then read automatically and data is sent back to the utility via GPRS every hour.

CEO of Överkalix Värmeverk, Kenneth Sköld, had the idea to use the garbage truck for meter reading more than a decade ago. It was then based on the overall rule that wherever water is consumed, garbage is also produced which meant that there was a basis for synergy between the two services. 

However, at the time, the necessary technology was not available to support the transition from idea to reality.

“Today, we can spend our time, resources and skills working with preventive measures and operations optimisation instead,” 

– Kenneth Sköld, CEO of Överkalix Värmeverk.

Small utilities have to be smart

With increasing competition from alternative heat sources such as heat pumps, utilities – especially the smaller ones – are under pressure to reduce costs, improve operational efficiency as well as enhance the offering they provide for their customers. 

According to Kenneth Sköld, smart metering is a big part of the solution to all three challenges: ”Small utilities have to be smart. We have to embrace the technology that can ease our administrative load.”
He explains that at Överkalix Värmeverk, simplicity and efficiency have always been key words in everything they do: “We are constantly and proactively striving to think forward and make everything easier.” 

The new and fully automated metering solution is an example of this guiding principle. “We are too small to employ experts at the utility, but for us it’s about asking the right questions to the right consultants – like Kamstrup.”

The garbage truck concept – simple genius

The garbage truck concept combines innovative mobile meter reading with the existing infrastructure. It is ideal for utilities covering a large geographical area where network reading and handheld drive-by solutions are not cost-effective. 

Via a concentrator placed in the garbage truck, meter reading is done automatically as the truck makes its usual way around the supply area collecting garbage. Communication is done through powerful and secure Wireless M-Bus C1 mode and data is transferred via GPRS to the utility. Only the concentrator in the truck requires GRPS and so the communication costs are kept at a minimum.  No extra effort or training is required from the truck drivers, which makes the concept extremely efficient and virtually cost-free. 

The genius of the concept is its simplicity. This makes it an obvious choice – especially for smaller municipalities where the garbage trucks are often the property of the municipality.

Improved operations and service

While their smart metering investment is expected to generate significant financial savings in the long run, the utility has experienced immediate benefits from simplified administration and handling of meter reading. 

This allows the employees to focus their efforts more efficiently. “Today, we can spend our time, resources and skills working with preventive measures and operations optimisation instead,” says Kenneth Sköld.

Another main reason behind the implementation of smart meters is the focus on fair and accurate billing of customers.
Whereas the heat meters in Överkalix have previously been read using a handheld terminal, water consumption has so far been billed based on meter reading cards manually filled out by the customers. With the new metering solution, customers are billed based on their exact consumption.

This ties in with the utility’s mission to provide the highest possible level of customer service and one of the functionalities supporting this, is the leak detection in water meters. 

Whereas leaks could previously go unnoticed for months, the utility is now able to contact the customer and notify them quickly, so that both water loss and damages are limited.
Along with the new metering system, Överkalix Värmeverk has also switched from their old data management program, PcBase, to READy Manager. 

Because of the many additional functionalities in READy, Kenneth Sköld compares the difference between the two systems to the difference between a typewriter and a computer. 

These include improved analytics and visualisation as well as easier hand of meters and data which enables more professional handling of customer enquiries and disputes. 

“We don’t have the money, personnel or resources to take giant leaps. Instead, we are in a constant process of optimisation – and in that process, our metering solution provides the basis for creating results for the utility as well as for our customers.”

Step-by-step optimisation

Going forward, Överkalix Värmeverk will be using their meter data for much more than what they do today. 

A key focus area will be to further lower the return temperature to reduce heat losses in the network, which have so far been as high as 70% on a warm summer day. 

Other important areas include identification and improvement of misadjusted heat installations as well as optimising the pressure in the distribution network to better match the actual consumption at certain times of the day and night. 

“We don’t have the money, personnel or resources to take giant leaps. Instead, we are in a constant process of optimisation – and in that process, our metering solution provides the basis for creating results for the utility as well as for our customers,” says Kenneth Sköld.
Transparent consumption
As yet another proactive step to improve the customer service and experience, Överkalix Värmeverk has just recently opted to buy Kamstrup’s online solution for visualisation of energy and water consumption to consumers, eButler. 

With eButler consumers can get a quick overview and follow their consumption on an hourly basis via their PC or an app on their smartphone or tablet. 

In addition to getting detailed insight into their own consumption pattern, consumers can also set up individual limits for when they want to receive immediate and direct notifications in the event of leaks or other irregularities. 

In this way, they not only save money but are able to actively adjust their consumption of energy and water.
About the case:
• 1,600 water meters
• 450 heat meters
• Meter reading: READy fixed network and mobile reading via local garbage trucks 
• Three concentrators (two in the church and one in the garbage truck)
• eButler for easy visualisation of consumption to end users
• Timeframe: Implementation of the new system began in the fall of 2016 and, as planned, was fully up and running by the start of 2017.