Are You Overlooking Hidden Usage?

October 20,2022 10:38 AM By Reed Sutter

A water utility approached SL-serco, having made several changes all at once.

· The utility replaced a drive-by advanced metering system from one manufacturer with a new fixed-base, automatic transmittal advanced metering system made by a different manufacturer.

· They replaced one Billing System with another.

· Additionally, staff turned over at key positions in the Water and Billing departments during the deployment. 


Upon completion of the project, billed water usage across the system decreased from pre-project totals. This result is opposite of what should be expected – billed water usage generally increases after project completion.


In this case, they were looking at evidence of an underlying problem, but what hid below the surface?

SL-serco was engaged to investigate and answer this question. We proceeded to:

· Analyze  data from the systems.

· Perform field visits at sites where we suspected read resolution values may be incorrect in the Billing System records. The field visits confirmed that resolution values were the source of part of the loss.


How bad could it be?

One of the meters we visited had registered over 43 million gallons of usage since installation. Because the resolution value in the billing software was incorrect, the customer had instead been billed for just over 4 million gallons. At this single location, the utility had allowed approximately 39 million gallons to escape their notice in just two years of service. This was all due to an incorrect read resolution value on their Billing System record.


How can this happen without being caught?

I expect this started as a simple data entry mistake made by the meter installer at the time of installation. It is an easy mistake to make and likely happens to some degree on every project. Incorrect read resolutions are usually identified and corrected when meter reading begins and the resulting consumption values make the discrepancies apparent. The Billing Clerk is our hero here by catching and correcting the problem before a customer receives an inaccurate bill.


However, at this particular Utility the new Billing System software had not been populated with historic usage trends from the former Billing System. It didn’t know to throw low usage warnings. Even if it had, the actual consumption values would only appear low if the Utility Billing Clerk knew to expect very high usage. This was a master meter which serves several properties and should rightly show usage that would be extremely high for most any other account. Where a tenured utility Billing Clerk may have given special attention to this high-usage account, their new Billing Clerk saw nothing amiss. The problem simply didn’t look like a problem. 


Thankfully at a high level, the Utility noticed a troubling usage trend in their system and chose to act. Though I’ve outlined just one example, we helped the Utility find and eliminate several contributing issues that had hidden within their billing and metering system.


There are similar anomalies hiding beneath the surface in systems all over. They’ve been quietly draining unbilled water, electricity, and gas from systems. They result in much lost revenue. Importantly, they seem invisible until you approach from a new perspective. If you think your system may be suffering loss due to overlooked usage, SL-serco can bring that new perspective. 

Let’s solve this.   

Reed Sutter