South East Water has become one of Victoria’s most progressive utilities – particularly when it comes to the modernisation of its network. Since May last year, the 35,000 digital meters installed across its network have not only saved over 201 million litres of water, but by identifying leaks early it’s prevented an average of $150 of unnecessary usage charges being added to a customer’s next bill.

As the cost of living increases, customers continue to be conscious of their water bills and have higher expectations of utilities to keep them informed of their usage and any potential issues.

Here, Mikala Hehir, General Manager of Customer and Community at South East Water, explains how new digital meters and Internet of Things (IoT) platforms are helping to identify water leaks, saving customers water and money, and protecting a critical resource.

Recent research conducted by South East Water found that about five per cent of households have a water leak they’re not aware of.

Without intervention, these leaks can go from a small inconvenience to a major disruption, wasting our most precious resource and costing customers money.

For utilities, these water leaks can be expensive, disruptive and lead to dissatisfied customers. In a time where customer expectations are high, and there are increased demands for lower bills and more visibility of usage, this is a significant issue.

Ms Hehir said that traditionally utilities rely on analogue meters and bill quarterly, so often, by the time both the utility and the customer are aware of the leak, it can be quite a serious problem.

With this in mind, South East Water has been working to develop fit-for-purpose digital solutions to help reduce issues like water leakage.

Innovative data-reading technologies like Lentic®, Sotto®, OneBox®, footprint® and Flow Lotic™ have been developed by its in-house R&D team, and then tested and proven in the network, for the benefit of customers, the environment and the utility.

Embracing digital

Digital water meters will be one of the most important tools in helping customers manage their water usage and avoiding bill shock. South East Water is currently undertaking a large scale trial rollout of digital meters. There are around 35,000 digital meters already installed, with plans for an additional 65,000 to be deployed by the end of 2023.

The utility-developed IoT platform, Lentic®, performs data ingestion and validation on the data from digital meters, in unison with existing data from enterprise systems, to provide high quality and reliable insights for operational decision making.

“Lentic® integrates with our other enterprise systems like the CRM, allowing customers to track their water usage using the customer portal so they can identify unusually high usage early on, before it becomes a major issue,” Ms Hehir said.

“We’ve already set up an automated process so the contact details of the customer are in our Salesforce CRM system. From there, we can send out a communication, like an SMS message, to automatically warn them about their usage.

“In just under 15 per cent of the houses that have digital meters, we were able to notify them of leaks — some were aware of these, some not — and have been able to help the customers save money.”

Near-real time visibility and insights

A simple SMS, alongside the portal’s daily updates, has unsurprisingly been received well by customers. In one recent example, a customer was in the process of building a house, but was not present at the site, and therefore unaware of a substantial leak of close to 30,000 litres over a 24 hour period.

The builder was also unaware of the leak, but because South East Water’s customer service team was alerted to the leak – via the Lentic® system linking the digital meter to the network command centre — it was detected quickly and fixed early. If the customer waited 85 days for their next bill, the leak could have cost around $10,000.

As South East Water and its commercial arm, Iota. continue to create, develop, manufacture and license new technology for their communities to combat some of these pressing water sector issues, they are also listening to their customers to outline the next steps.

In fact, talking to its customers is critical for South East Water. Over the last 12 months – as part of its 2023-2028 Price Submission – it formed a 40-member community panel made up of a cross-section of customers from across its network, to better understand what water services are the most important.

Across the variety of public workshops, one:one interviews, focus groups and surveys, it was clear that digital, and digital metering, is a key focus for most. South East Water’s deployment of digital meters, plus its central platform that operationalises the data, has had a number of positive customer and environmental outcomes.

For customers, the platform allows them to access their own data and detect unusual usage early on which creates a much more positive experience and increases engagement. While environmentally, the detection and prediction of future disruptive events allows for the world’s most precious resource to be preserved.

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