Wired Meter Solution Proposal for the City of Fairfield, Offered to the City Water Department, July 31 Meeting

Following is a draft of the Request for Proposal, which was submitted to the City Water Department, at the Committee meeting, held Tuesday, July 31. Robert Palma and John Brown had been working on this project for the past 3 months, in communications with the water department and a private engineering firm, specializing in custom electrical and wireless designs. This proposal reflects the requirements which have been stipulated by the water department, and the evaluations which have been made by the engineering firm, for designing a system which can fulfill all these requirements. The cost basis proposal from the company would be dependent on the statement of the agreed upon objectives and product outcome of thus project.

Metering Over IP RFP Outline

(Request For Proposal Outline)

Introduction

We are approaching this as a system for a city wide solution. This requires that customers with varied internet access options could interface with this system, by means of Fiber from one internet service provider, or broadband with another, or even with standard telephone lines. Therefore the interface box functionality would be compatible with all different variations, via Ethernet cable. In the case of homes only connected to phone lines, presumably the old First Point telephone interface box could be selected.

The touch pad plate addition to the interface box would be capable of providing meter reading access in the event of the customer losing power, or shutting off service for some period of time, or other situations when the internet service is interrupted.

The battery powered operation for the interface box is an important consideration, to avoid complications from power being cut off, or disconnected for some period of time.

Software design would be required, for connectivity and communication from the meter to fiber, or other access to internet protocol, and also server based software, for reading results and processing the data, at the office of the city water department.

Technical Description, Design and Details:

This document is an outline of the basic specifications required for a metering-over-IP RFP. It is presented in a cryptic format.

Metering-over-IP (Internet Protocol) in this application refers-to the ability to obtain metering data, such as water usage in cubic feet or gallons, at a central location, by use of an IP network.

An IP network can be a fiber optics-based network, a DSL (digital subscriber line) connection of IP over a POTS (plain old telephone system) line, an IP connection through a cable TV network or other connection possibilities.

The underlying scheme here is that some device will produce IP packets-of-information containing metering data, and the network will be able to deliver those IP packets, by virtue of standard IP routing, to another destination, where that destination is the central facility where an IP server is waiting to accept the data.

Fundamental to this approach is the presence of an existing metering device, such as a water meter, that has an electrical output that can be connected-to an electronics device that will provide connection to an IP network. In this document, that electronics device will be referred-to as an Interface Box.

The Interface Box will connect, via Ethernet to one of the various networks (described above) and will act as a “client” in the so-called Client-Server computing model.

Software running on the server at the central location will be listening on a port for the incoming IP packets from various meters.

A possible network block diagram for this arrangement follows.

  

Interface Box Specifications Summary

Enclosure

  • Environmentally sealed
  • Outdoor installation
  • Operates according to spec in typical weather in CONUS (continental US)
  • Wall or shelf mountable
  • Drip proof
  • Environmental protection for wire/connector ingress/egress
  • Easy access to change the internal battery

Power

  • Operates on 120 VAC 60 Hz power. It is acceptable that an external power supply or transformer is used to accept the 120 VAC 60 Hz and provide another power type to the Interface Box proper.
  • It is desirable that the Interface Box have an option to operate from an internal battery.

Interface to Water Meter Device

  • Able to connect-to a variety of water meter devices from existing manufacturers
  • Connections are copper (wire)
  • Length of wire/cable from water meter device to Interface Box can be as long as 50 meters

Interface to IP Network

  • Interface shall be Fast Ethernet (100 megabits/sec)
  • Physical media (PHY) shall be copper with RJ-45 connector with standard EIA wiring
  • Can operate with DHCP (dynamic host configuration protocol) to acquire DNS servers, Default Gateway, IP address, Subnet mask, or the aforementioned settings can be set manually.

Touch Pad Interface

NOTE: there is a type of interface currently available on water meters called a Touch Pad. In this scheme, a utility person will walk up to the Touch-Pad-equipped water meter and touch a wand from a portable hand held reader device, to the so-called Touch Pad on the water meter. This will allow the acquisition of metering data. This interface (appears to be) an inductive interface, so the Touch Pad on the water meter and the wand of the portable hand held reader device (probably) have coils in them.

The Interface Box shall have the ability to host a Touch Pad on the Interface Box itself, to allow the utility to acquire metering data from the Interface Box with a Touch-Pad-compatible portable hand held reader device, in the event that the IP network is not installed or not functional.

————————————————–

Following is some further elaboration, offered in response to writers for the Fairfield Ledger, for their better understanding of some details of the project.

Also, what exactly would the boxes they would create do and how would they do it – in lay terms?

The “boxes” are interface units which would designed to connect with the much less expensive water meters (about 90.00 VS the 250.00 the Neptune RF wireless meters) via simple copper wire, which would then run to the interface box where the information from the meter would be converted to digital format, compatible with internet protocol. Then the system would provide ability for the water department to obtain metering data, such as water usage in cubic feet or gallons, at a central location, on their computers over standard internet lines, by means of standard IP network. So this system would best be described as a solution for metering over Internet Protocol, or “IP metering”.  

 These small plastic encased interface boxes would also include, on the outside, the same small “touch plate”, as currently being used by most of the old meters existing throughout town. This touch plate, which can be placed anywhere, such as close to the street, allows water department meter readers to read the meters quickly with a hand held device. By including this with the new design, it would offer backup in case of any power shutdowns or other interruption of signal.

 This system would be compatible with the existing fiber optic infrastructure, which currently covers most of the city, with about one third of the homes in town already connected to fiber optic. The system would also be compatible with dsl connections, and even standard telephone lines. At the current rate of water meter installations and changeovers, it would be a gradual process over the next few years, of phasing In the fiber compatible units, at the same rate which would have been the timing of the RF meters.

 The cost for this alternative has been roughly estimated “ballpark”, to come in below the cost which would have been incurred with city wide RF wireless meters. The job involves custom design to meet the needs of Fairfield. There would be research and development, and software design, and then the final product of the interface boxes would be available on a per unit basis.

 The city and Cipher would negotiate all the variables such as roll out plans, and payment schedule according to the city’s schedule. Cipher has done work for many cities in the past, so they recognize the need for financing flexibility.

 Even if the short term cost would be equal, or even if it were slightly higher, in the long term the cost savings would continue to grow significantly, because the permanent fiber infrastructure, with costs of initial hookups, would be established, for 20, 30, or 50 years in the future. In contrast, the RF meters were only guaranteed for 10 years, with evidence of an even shorter lifespan of 7 years, in performance in other cities.

 Finally, the underground wired solution is obviously a desirable one for the consideration of the safety of Fairfield citizens. Since 14% of the adult population has signed the petition for elimination of RF meters, and requested the safer alternative, the proposed alternative is an appropriate response to the best interests and desires of the citizens.

 Finally, who was the other person presenting the rfp to the city? The man sitting next to you?

 Robert Palma. He has been working on this engineering solution for the past 3 months. His credentials:  This award winning rocket scientist, Robert Palma, was a principal contributor to a unique Radio Frequency (RF) testing technique that is now used for all Space Shuttle flights. 36 years, Research and Development engineering. Prior to moving to Fairfield, 23 years, design and development of spacecraft and launch vehicle systems for 17 Earth orbiting satellites, Awarded NASA/Air Force Award for work as one of two principle design engineers for the re-write of military standard, MIL-STD-1512 (tailored for U.S. Space Shuttle program)

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