In mid-February, Glendale Water & Power awarded a $4.2-million contract to Greenville, S.C.-based Utility Partners of America Inc., as the Southern California city joined a nationwide move to so-called smart water and electric networks. The advanced metering infrastructure will act as a two-way communication network to connect the meter to the utility and to the customer.

Utility Partners is the same company that won a $7.5-million contract for similar work in Sacramento, Calif., in November. It has installed an estimated 6 million meters across the country. The 33,400 new water and 84,500 electric meters UPA will install in Glendale will be supplied by Itron Inc., a publicly held meter and data-collection systems manufacturer based in Liberty Lake, Wash. Utility managers can remotely collect, monitor, report, initiate and turn off service. UPA also will install leak-detecting sensors to make trouble-shooting faster and easier. Project management and technical support are being provided by Burlington, Mass.-based KEMA Inc.

“Remote connect saves labor and travel while improving customer service,” said Terry McDonald, Glendale Water & Power project manager. “In years to come, the meter will communicate directly with ‘smart’ appliances, including electric-vehicle chargers, and it will enable customers to participate in new rate plans that will help them to save money, while they help GWP to save money by shifting [water] use to low-cost times of the day.”

Demonstration projects will begin in spring, and the rest of the installations will begin in late summer. The project could be completed by mid-2011. UPA will hire approximately 40 people to do the work.

The American Water Works Association reports that in a recent Oracle survey of 300 water utility managers, more than two-thirds of respondents believed they needed to adopt smart-meter technologies. Only one-third were considering or implementing the technology, and only 7% already have installed a smart-meter program. “Money, more than any other reason, is the major roadblock,” according to the report. Internal sustainability initiatives, alleviating pressure on resources, regulatory requirements and customer demand were the reasons given for moving ahead with a smart-meter project.