The New Wave of Smart Gas Technology

The New Wave of Smart Gas Technology

By Dan Bennett, Global Gas Marketing Director, Sensus, a Xylem brand  |  Published in APGA’s THE SOURCE

The rise of smart cities has peaked consumer demand for connected infrastructure. As part of this movement, advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) is accelerating the anticipated transition to smart gas. And now, ultrasonic metering for wide-scale residential deployment is available to natural gas utilities.

While ultrasonic metering technology is not new, it has only recently become cost competitive with mechanical alternatives. Ultrasonic meters deliver advantages such as compact design, sustained accuracy and compatibility with advanced, smart gas metering infrastructure.

History of ultrasonic gas metering

First, let’s learn from the past. Ultrasonic flow technology got a boost in the late 1980s when British Gas set up a competition to develop a more compact gas flow meter. Ultrasonic technology was the driver behind the winning entries. The new, improved design turned out to be more compact and accurate than traditional diaphragm meters. The parent company of Sensus, a Xylem brand, recognized the potential for an improved gas monitoring system, acquired the technology and produced more than 1.3 million residential, single-path ultrasonic meters in Europe.

The North American market noticed the success of ultrasonic technology in Europe, however, high costs prevented wide adoption. Today, that’s no longer the case. Years of research and development around ultrasonic measurement paved the way for the emergence of a competitively priced product. Mass production also helps bring down the cost of components such as long-life batteries, transducers, sensors and microcontrollers.

How ultrasonic gas meters work

Ultrasonic meters are designed to use sound waves to measure the speed of gas movement relative to the speed of sound. Transducers in the meter then generate sound pulses from electric currents and detect them. Finally, software analyzes these readings in nanoseconds for pinpoint accuracy.

Advantages of ultrasonic

While there are numerous benefits to ultrasonic metering technology, the first from a visual perspective is the size difference. Because there are fewer mechanical parts, the size and weight of an ultrasonic meter compared with its diaphragm-driven counterpart is cut by at least half. For example, the latest ultrasonic gas meter from Sensus only weighs six pounds. This equates to huge benefits for a gas utility, including increased fuel efficiencies due to reduced transportation weight, less warehouse space required for storage, and the ability to be installed in tight spaces. In short, smaller is sometimes better. Utility leadership teams have an opportunity to reassess operations and asset management and even support important environmental initiatives with the introduction of the new, compact meters. Smaller meters mean less packaging and reduced fuel emissions during transportation; smaller flow tubes mean a reduction in the amount of natural gas released during a meter change out.

Another key benefit of ultrasonic metering technology is sustained accuracy, which allows utilities to increase internal efficiencies and streamline operations. Because there are no moving parts hindering the flow of gas or degrading over time, the age of the parts has no effect on read accuracy. The solidstate construction in ultrasonic meters also resists contamination and freezing more than mechanical meters do. With these inherent traits, ultrasonic meters require less maintenance and fewer accuracy checks, helping utility managers save more time and money on field-site visits and truck rolls, as well as lowering the total cost of ownership over time.

With an electronic platform, new ultrasonic meters capture more data than ever before and allow easy integration with a communications platform to transmit this valuable information back to the utility. In addition to consumption, data around temperature, overflow, reverse flow, air in the meter, pressure and tampering can be monitored and transmitted by these meters. The availability of this information promises to transform the way some utilities are doing business. As they calculate the value of this data and how they can better equip technicians to handle field issues, ultrasonic technology and electronic platforms may very well be the catalyst that allows utilities to adopt automatic meter reading systems efficiently and upgrade directly to a smart gas utility.

One smart meter

Sensus released its new Sonix IQ residential gas meter in October 2019 to improve safety for our communities. The smart, compact meter offers all the advantages of ultrasonic technology and goes beyond metering with advanced functionality like continuous health checks which include system safety alerts. Continuous usage logs provide theft and tamper detection as well as information to resolve billing disputes for utilities and their customers.

During Sonix IQ field trials, utilities quickly saw the value of having precise, real-time readings. Upon installation, the smart meter immediately alerted that a line configured to deliver 50 cubic feet per hour (cu ft/hr) was only reading 25 cu ft/hr. The onsite team pulled out gauges, verified the accuracy of the reading and confirmed that the line configuration wasn’t as expected, proving that the smart meter’s diagnostics are a big time saver for troubleshooting in the field or remotely. Remember while diaphragm meters are quite accurate, they take a significant amount of gas flow and time to register movement on the index.

Crews saw another benefit at the day’s end when the gas was being turned off. There wasn’t supposed to be any flow, yet the meter kept registering 1 cu ft/hr. The onsite team discovered a small leak between the valve and the line that supplied a gaslight, showing how the Sonix IQ enables crews to see leaks past the meter.

Sonix IQ sets a new standard for gas metering with features such as an integrated pressure sensor, remote shut-off and an auto shut-off component based on internal sensors that can further increase the safety of our communities. For example, if an earthquake or other natural disaster causes damage to homes and businesses, the utility will be able to quickly pinpoint the affected zone and remotely shut off the gas to ensure the safety of first responders. The same goes for many natural disasters such as flooding, wildfires, or storms. The remote shut-off feature could work through automated monitoring, and in the case of auto shut-off not require additional prompting from the utility. This is a proactive approach to gas management.

The demand for connected infrastructure will continue to increase as consumers become accustomed to the benefits. Gas utility managers have a timely opportunity to consider their industry’s future and to adopt game-changing ultrasonic residential technology. Making smart investments now will enable forward-thinking managers to capitalize on the benefits of today while ushering in the smart gas utility of tomorrow.

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