Chicago, Illinois, is a city with some 1.6 million households. As one could imagine, the city water authority has a huge task ahead of them whenever it is time to get the meter readings. That will not be true for long, however, as Badger Meter aims to make the daunting process much more efficient.
Badger Meter inked an agreement with the Chicago water department to install its Orion RF automated meter reading system (AMR) for 162,000 meters within the city. The three year deal is worth $39.8 million.
Badger Meter is based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and specializes in manufacturing water meters and meter reading systems for both residential and commercial use. The Orion system attaches directly to a water meter and allows for data to be wirelessly transmitted to an information-gathering truck passing by. This makes life a lot easier for the urban meter reader who only has to drive down a street to get meter readings.
In essence, the meters become “smart” once the Orion system is added. The Chicago contract calls for Badger Meter to become the primary provider to retrofit the Orion system on around 80,000 home and commercial water meters that are already in place. As many as 82,000 new meters that have the RF communications system built in will replace old and outdated meters.
Badger Meter is very happy to have landed the large contract and is eager to work with the Windy City. “To date, Chicago is the largest city that has selected the Orion system, which is a strong indicator of the acceptance of this popular, innovative system,” said Richard Meeusen, Chief Executive.
The meter maker has enjoyed a lengthy working relationship with the city. Chicago has used the company’s plastic water meters for many years. The plastic meters have proven to be as reliable and sturdy as brass meters, but also much more inexpensive.
Analyst John Quealy of Canaccord Adams says the deal speaks well for the future of Badger Meter. “It helped kick-start momentum for Badger because it was one of the largest awards in the industry over the last couple of years,” said Quealy. “And it used Orion and its plastic meters, a growing product line for the company.”
Badger began shipping the Orion system and the new smart water meters to Chicago late in 2007. By the end of the first quarter 2008, the company had sold $2.2 million worth of the devices to the city.
The Orion system is a big seller for the company. Badger Meter also specializes in manufacturing fluid controlling meters for the industrial market. Badger is also a distributor of Itron’s automated meter reading system for water systems.
AMR meters work by making use of embedded registers that digitally encode mechanical meter readings. The RF communications transmit the readings to a computer system.
Badger Meter is also making gains in the advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) market. With AMI in place, the more advanced features of smart metering are possible such as the real-time monitoring of power consumption by individual appliances within the home. Also, utility companies are able to deploy advanced demand response systems over an AMI network.
Badger Meter acquired AMI technology in April that was used within the Galaxy system. This network is able to read data from a meter and wirelessly transmit it to a central location. With this system there is not even a need to send out a specially equipped van to do the meter readings.
Badger Meter had previously licensed the technology from Miltel Communications, based in Israel. However, rather than stick to the original 10-year deal, Meeusen opted to purchase the technology outright at a cost of $25.7 million.
Water conservation is becoming essential in certain areas of the United States. A severe drought throughout the Southeast in 2007 and constant droughts in the western states is a persistent reminder that water is a scarce commodity. Throughout America there is motivation to conserve water.
A smart water meter can help the effort. If consumers actually paid for the water consumed and not a flat, monthly rate they consume 20% to 30% less. Meeusen figures there are at least 10 million homes in the United States that are connected to municipal water systems but don’t have a meter installed. Without a meter, a flat rate must be charged so these homes have no incentive to conserve water.
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