RFID technology is being used more and more to track assets and employees in the healthcare, finance, and technology industries. The technology is slowly making its presence known in the utility sector as well.
Alco Water Service, an investor-owned water utility in Salinas, Calif., is using an active RFID solution to track employees as they enter and exit its unmanned well sites, in order to comply with federal anti-terrorism regulations. Alco Water is working with AssetPulse, an RFID systems integrator specializing in asset tracking applications.
In an interview with RFID 24-7, AssetPulse CEO Sujatha Bodapati says that Alco Water is the only utility that her firm is currently working with. However, she says that RFID technology has many applications in the utility sector, and that utilities of all sorts would benefit from the employee tracking capabilities being used at Alco, and the resulting increased efficiencies.
“The technology has actually been quite useful for them,” she says. “When there is an outage they need to send a technician, they know exactly where all their technicians are and they can actually send somebody who is closest to the problem, and that type of things has been quite useful for them. The same thing could hold true for electric utilities.”
Aside from maximizing resources, the technology has helped Alco Water to increase efficiencies. Alco, which provides water to about 30,000 customers, has nine well sites spread around a 10-mile radius of its service territory. Each site consists of a small pump house surrounded by a barbed fence. For security reasons it is critical to have a continuous record of activities that take place at each of the pump stations. The RFID-based solution provides a time-stamped trail of who enters a pump station, what time they leave it and how much time they spend there.
AssetGather RFID asset tracking software was installed at Alco’s central server, which was networked to all the sites. The reads from the active RFID readers at various locations were collected, processed and consolidated into the AssetGather system. The web-based multi-location dashboard and reporting capabilities provided categorized views by activity-type, location and time-period. AssetGather reports also provided duration of every activity at any location, along with start and end timestamps. The ability to export these reports in to a spreadsheet-friendly format meant that they could be easily inter-operate with existing systems and processes such as time and attendance billing.
“We have been repeatedly seeing the benefits of the RFID solution from AssetPulse,” Tom Adcock, president of Alco Water Service, said in a press release. “We have come to rely on the system to provide us an accurate historical record of critical information. The system has helped us effectively meet compliance regulations and has given us the visibility to improve our internal processes.”
Apart from customizable reports, the AssetGather system also sends out alert notifications on configurable “out-of-normal” patterns of activities. For example, rules could be set in the system to notify when any activity is noticed at a station after late evenings, or on weekends. Apart from security reasons these alerts could also be useful to ensure business processes are followed. For example, regular alerts on weekends could mean increasing number of service requests, which is an indicator to allocate more standby resources on weekends.
Experts say that many utilities are researching the technology for various applications in the utility sector, including monitoring transmission lines, smart meters, automated substations, and underground power cables (See RFID 24-7). The Tennessee Valley Authority reportedly is using RFID and other wireless sensor technology to monitor pollution levels at a coal generation plant in Kentucky. The substation there currently has about 60 to 70 RFID tags being interrogated on a daily basis.