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Making the case for smart water metering

Across Europe, millions of smart water meters provide utilities with insights into their networks, and a trial in Singapore proved the technology can lead to reductions in water use. So why don’t more Australian utilities have a fleet of their own?

“The number one challenge until now has been the cost,” SUEZ Smart Water Senior Manager Sean Cohen said.

“The perception is that smart metering is really expensive, but it doesn’t need to be. There are now low-cost, well-engineered options.”

This is thanks to organisations including the Wize Alliance. Founded by SUEZ, French gas company GRDF and communications company Sagemcom, the not-for-profit promotes open standards to make smart meters more accessible. Its members range from councils to utilities and technology providers, who are all interested in moving the industry forward.

“Across the alliance, we’re deploying 10,000 new devices every day,” Cohen said.

“We have around 6 million devices in the field already, all built on open standards.

“Meanwhile in Australia, we have about 10 million metered properties and less than 2% of these are on a smart water meter.”

SUEZ manages one of the largest fleets of smart meters in the world and Cohen, who will be presenting on the topic at the Australian Water Association’s NT Water in the Bush Conference next month, is evangelical about their potential.

He said a lot of conversations with Australian utilities have been about the ‘FUD’ (fear, uncertainty and doubt) surrounding smart meters, but that the local sector is starting to see the light.

“The biggest benefit is that it gives utilities good quality data about how their network is behaving,” Cohen said.

“You can see flows, pressures and how water is moving, and you can get people to respond to real-time alerts.” 

Regional utilities like Coliban Water are leading the way, rolling out digital metering programs to make their networks more efficient.  

“Those areas have moved faster because it’s a smaller ship to turn,” he said.

“If you go into a major metropolitan area where you’ve got over a million connections, it’s more to manage.

“It’s not a quick process, but it is starting to build.”

Test case

The benefits of smart water meters aren’t just theoretical. A trial by SUEZ and Singaporean water authority PUB showed they can help change customer behaviour.

The project, which involved smart meters in 1000 households and an app that rewarded users for certain results, led to a 5% reduction in daily water consumption. This is not bad for a country that already has lower per capita water consumption than any Australian state, at less than 143 L per person per day.

In contrast, residents in New South Wales use about 200 L of water a day, while those in the Northern Territory guzzle 500 L.

With many parts of Australia in a crippling drought, Cohen said using smart meters could help expand Australia’s established culture of water saving.

“Knocking 5% to 10% off the amount of water Australians use would make a huge difference,” he said.

“We have really good cultural awareness about water conservation … The big challenge is getting the incentives right and getting people to pay more attention to their behaviour.”

The gamification in the Singapore trial – with participants given rewards ranging from physical prizes to social media shout outs – also helped reduce water use at peak times by 10%. As a water network only needs to be large enough to handle its biggest peak, this could help utilities delay infrastructure spending. 

“A big part of a water utility’s problem is knowing what’s going on in the network,” Cohen said.

“Smart meters give utilities that information. If you combine that with changing customer behaviour, and shaving off those big peaks in the morning and afternoon, you start to see the reasons for deploying them.”

To hear more about smart metering, don’t miss Sean Cohen’s presentation at the Australian Water Association’s NT Water in the Bush Conference, held in Darwin from 17 to 18 October. To learn more and to register, click here.