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Imagine the shock of opening up your water bill and finding a charge for $57,000. I’ve seen that happen—not because of an accounting error, but because the customer had an undetected water leak.

When a leak happens, it can mean thousands of gallons of water flowing out of the system an hour, which not only racks up charges for the customer, but also wastes a valuable natural resource. The solutions we develop at Itron are designed to save work for water operators, save money for customers, and save water for everyone.

Lake County buildingsThe Lake County Public Works Department in Illinois provides a good example of how Itron technology can transform the way water delivery is monitored and managed. Prior to implementing our solution, the county contracted its meter reading to a third-party service company, which only took measurements 7 out of 12 months each year. This gave customers few data points to use for monitoring ongoing water usage and taking steps toward conservation. It was also expensive and time consuming for the department to send a technician out to address customer concerns.

In late 2012, the department decided it needed to conduct its business more efficiently and cost effectively. After evaluating responses to a request for proposals, it chose Itron—a Microsoft CityNext Partner—to implement an advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) system for customers throughout the department’s 450-square-mile territory.

The AMI system consists of a device installed at each customer location. It takes a reading from the customer’s water meter and communicates results back via a wireless network, enabling instant feedback about water consumption at any location. The department can also access advanced analytics to better monitor the overall health of the system and respond proactively to potential problems. Technicians can now often address and resolve customer issues in a few minutes over the phone, without having to send someone to the site.

The department has also set up a web portal that empowers customers to take a more active role in water conservation by monitoring and controlling their water usage. Through the portal, customers can sign up to receive text alerts if their water usage exceeds a particular threshold. For example, they can receive an alert if they’ve used more than 100 gallons for the month, or if they’ve used more than 85 percent of what they used in the same month last year. Customers can also receive alerts for continuous usage or unusually high usage, which are both typical indicators of potential customer premise leaks.

Because of the efficiencies introduced by the AMI system, Lake County has been able to streamline both its service and billing departments and reallocate staff to new positions where they can better help the county. By eliminating onsite meter reading and reducing the frequency of technician troubleshooting visits, the county estimates that it is saving $250,000 annually. At the same time, it has improved customer service and helped make life in Lake County more sustainable through conservation and improved leak detection.

Itron is a founding member of the Smart Cities Council, which focuses on issues like sustainability and livability through technology initiatives that help us better manage energy and water. Microsoft is one of our partners on the council, and Itron uses Microsoft Azure, a collection of integrated cloud services, to deliver our remote monitoring and analytics solutions to customers.

The move to the cloud is cost effective for our customers and offers a high level of security for sensitive customer data that is essential for a public utility. By combining Azure cloud technology from Microsoft with best-in-class solutions from Itron, we are able to help utilities and cities become more efficient and sustainable.