West Shelby Water adds solar, other high-tech aids

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The utility in Simpsonville has upgraded meters, is mapping lines and adding solar-powered beacon lights on towers.

By Todd Martin

West Shelby Water District Manager Steve Eden said the Simpsonville-based utility had been looking to add beacon lights to the top of its three water towers for some time now, but the cost had been delaying the plan.

“It’s normally pretty cost prohibitive because of you have to run electrical conduit all the way up the side of the tower,” he said. “And stat flight has asked us to put them up there because they fly this corridor to the hospitals.”

Eden said the company didn’t have to put the lights up by law, because the towers are shorter than 200 feet, but they looked at it as a “safety investment.”

So, with a little research, Eden said they found a much more cost effective solution — solar- powered LED lights.

The rectangular lights are about 18 inches tall, with solar panels on all four sides and one on top of the light. At about $7,000 for all three, Eden said the company jumped on the deal.

“We were able to get three of these lights [one for each of West Shelby’s water tanks] for less than it would cost to do one tank the other way,” he said.

It would’ve cost about $8,000 to wire just one tank for a light.

The solar panels store enough energy in a battery to power the light for about 27 days, Eden said, and the batteries last five to seven years.

“And when they do go, the batteries only cost a couple hundred dollars, so it’s really a good deal,” he said.

The utility company decided on this style, in part, because research showed they were used by the military in remote areas that could not have electricity. “We figured if the military used them, then they must be pretty reliable,” Eden said.

Although the beacon lights are the newest additions, they aren’t the only upgrades the water company has been working on.

Last summer the company finished replacing the standard water meters with radiometers for a big savings in time and cost.

“It used to take us five days to read all the meters; now it just takes one,” Eden said.

A radio transmitter in a truck reads the meters. It emits a signal every 2 seconds as the truck travels the streets. The information is relayed from the meter to the truck, and the readings are downloaded to a computer in the office.

Now, one person can read all of West Shelby’s meters in one day, instead of three readers in three trucks over five days.

“When you add that up, it’s quite an expense,” Eden said.

Eden said West Shelby also is working toward mapping all its lines, valves and equipment in the field.

“I told the commission there are a lot of pipes out there that I’ve seen go in, but when I retire, no one will know where they are,” he said. “So we’ve started with the valves and hydrants, and, hopefully, by the time I retire in five, six, seven years, we’ll have them all mapped out.”

The way the GPS program works is staff uses a post to mark spots, and the post reads the location and sends that information to a satellite, which stores the location and compiles it all into a map.

Then, with a handheld device, workers will be able to locate all the field equipment.

“When I started here [in 1990], there were only 700 meters,” Eden said. “It’s funny, if we had started all this then, it would have been much easier, but technology is so expensive you have to wait for the prices to come down and then catch up. But in the long run, all of these things are really going to make things better.”