Phoenix looks up for water, power data

Phoenix looks up for water, power data

Satellite network lets one of the nation's largest public utilities track usage

By Claire E. House
GCN Staff

An extensive Phoenix-area public utility monitors its assets with a little help from above.

The Salt River Project's Spatia system relies on a low Earth orbit bidirectional satellite system to monitor water flow, control pumps and compile energy usage data in remote areas.

'It's just another option in our portfolio of options when it comes to collecting and retrieving data from water and power operations,' said Bruce Hallin, director of business development for the project's Water Group.

SRP serves a 2,900-square-mile area in central Arizona. Its Water Group manages six dams on two rivers, a 131-mile-long canal system and 250 groundwater wells, delivering more than 326 billion gallons of water annually.

It is the third largest public power utility in the country, bringing electricity to more than 700,000 customers through seven power plants and numerous generating stations.

About 25 remote sensors send or receive SRP data through satellites, and the utility will soon add 100 more.

Spatia also links via satellite to another 175 sensors at the sites of clients who pay the utility for the data service.

Clients include municipal utilities, retail stores, factories and consultants.

'We move the data and post the data for them, but it's their data,' Hallin said.

Each sensor links to an EL-2000 data logger and portable two-way communicator unit from Stellar Satellite Communications Ltd., an Israeli company with a Reston, Va., office. The units intercept data from the sensors and send it at 2.4 Kbps to one of 35 satellites in the commercial ORBCOMM satellite system, also based in Reston.

The data beams down at 4.8 Kbps to one of four ORBCOMM U.S. ground stations, which sends it to the company's network control center in Reston via a 56-Kbps fiber-optic line. The center compiles the data and sends it to SRP via the Internet or a 56-Kbps frame relay line. Spatia deposits the data into Microsoft SQL Server databases running under Microsoft Windows NT 4.0 on a group of PC servers.

From there, the system manipulates and transmits data as needed. It can create charts, graphs and lists. Spatia then either posts data to a password-protected Web site for authorized retrieval or sends it to end users.

Users can run various reports directly from the site or download data into spreadsheets, Hallin said. The system also prompts alarm or exception reports for assets that fall outside designated parameters.

Water control works in the opposite direction. Users go through the Web site to click a virtual on or off switch for a particular area. The signal travels back through the system to the sensor, which executes the command.

No wasted water

SRP and its clients use the system to turn groundwater pumps or wells on and off; monitor the amount of water leaving or entering; help determine well efficiency by monitoring pump activity, pumped water amount and energy use; and read energy usage meters. SRP also uses the sensors in a water reuse project that monitors water levels.

An additional 100 client sensors connect to Spatia via telephone lines. SRP expects to increase business with its four clients, bring in others and link some sensors through networks, Hallin said.

SRP falls under Arizona government oversight and is run by a publicly elected board. Visit and for more information.

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