Municipal Utilities Turn to the Cloud to Gain Visibility and Control Costs

“With smart meters backed by cloud services, cities see clearly how much water and energy is being used and where Something like traffic, you see it on a regular basis,” explains Eric Horvath, director of public works for the city of South Bend, Ind. “If you’re driving home, and you’re in rush hour, and you’re waiting at a light three times, and you’re the traffic engineer for the city, you’re pretty frustrated — and you probably find a way to fix that.”

But Horvath had an invisible problem. Until the 1950s, sewage from South Bend homes and businesses mixed with stormwater drainage and overflowed, untreated, into the St. Joseph River. Eventually, a treatment plant and intercepting sewers were added, but they couldn’t handle all the flow during rains.

municipal utilities

In 2012, South Bend signed a decree with the Environmental Protection Agency, agreeing to hundreds of millions of dollars in infrastructure upgrades to address the issue. However, funding the upgrades would require 1 in 5 residents to spend 10 percent of their income on sewage bills.

“We needed to find a better way to handle this sewer overflow issue,” Horvath says. South Bend found its solution in a cloud-based metering system.

Municipal utilities around the country are slowly adopting smart metering powered by cloud computing to gain visibility into consumption levels, to control costs and to encourage adoption of renewable energy sources. Those cities and counties that embrace the technology can see immense benefits, including improved citizen services, reduced spending and boosted efficiency.

“We’re seeing tentative expansion,” says Cooper Martin, director of sustainability and solutions for the National League of Cities. “Larger cities, cities with more customers, utilities with more customers — they’ve embraced it a little bit earlier.”

“They stand to gain information quicker. A lot of times, they can streamline the billing process, providing the utility in a more convenient and transparent way,” Martin says. “It enables cities to be more precise.”

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