It’s our most precious resource, so why haven’t water utilities been as quick to deploy intelligent metering systems as the electricity sector?

Of course smart meters for electricity usage have obviously been helped along by the mandatory rollout of metering devices in Victoria. And while they are different products and the benefits between the two industries are slightly different, both electricity and water smart metering technology offers one clear benefit to utilities – the chance to develop a better relationship with customers, and the opportunity to more effectively manage assets.

We spoke to Cesare Tizi, Principal Consultant, Utilities at CSC Australia to gain his insights into the benefits smart meters can offer and their uptake in the current market.

Establishing the utility-customer connection

Traditionally, the relationship between water utility and customer could be best described as ‘one-sided’ and ‘infrequent’. Customers receive their bill, usually three or four times a year, and unless there has been an obvious fault or an anomaly in the invoice, these quarterly bills are the only times the customer would hear from their water provider.

Smart meters provide a better way of developing and maintaining a connection between the water utility and customer. They also establish a connection between supplier and customer that isn’t simply based on one party wanting something from the other party – it enables a flow of information that is useful to both parties, and can provide both parties with benefits.

For example, in the case of leak detection. “Previously, both customer and utility wouldn’t be aware of a household leak until the next quarterly bill came in and presented a nasty shock,” says Cesare. “With smart meters, and the incremental measurement of water consumption, the meter can detect a leak – for example, by noting water usage overnight. The customer and utility then become aware of the problem before it presents itself as an increased bill.”

All of this means the customer saves money, the utility is able to repair assets in a timely and efficient manner and perhaps most importantly – water isn’t wasted.

Smart meters also enable customers to be billed more regularly, and according to Cesare, research continuously shows that this is actually how customers prefer to be billed.

“Rather than paying one large bill three or four times a year, customers can spread their payment across smaller, more regular payments which are more manageable for the household budget.”

Managing the assets

Aside from improving the customer relationship, for utilities, smart meters also provide a much better picture of how assets are performing, allowing the development of an efficient asset management program.

“Smart meters provide a consumption profile for the entire network, especially at the edge of the network,” says Cesare. “This data is very important for leak detection, and very useful in the planning of infrastructure that delivers water, as an understanding of demand across the network is imperative for the planning of new asset, and for the rehabilitation of existing assets within the network.”

Smart meters also allow water utilities to proactively – and importantly, intelligently – manage their assets.

Traditionally, management of water assets is done in two ways. Reactively, whereby a problem, such as a burst water main, has already occurred and needs to be repaired immediately, usually at significant cost and after some disruption to the general community; or on a time-scale, whereby assets are rehabilitated or replaced simply based on their age and material type, without any consideration of the actual condition of the asset.

However, this isn’t particularly efficient or effective. It would be much better to base replacement strategies on the condition of the material, how much it has actually been used, and where it is placed.

When you’re talking about an asset base of up to several billion dollars, any improvement you can make in the management of these assets is going to return massive amounts to the utility.

The challenges

While the benefits are relatively clear, there is one key challenge associated with the implementation of water meters – how to actually power them.

“In the electricity space there’s a natural source of power – electricity – to drive the smart meter,” says Cesare. “For the water meter, there’s only a water pipe – there’s no power, which means water meters are typically run by batteries, which creates some interesting challenges in the deployment of smart meters.”

Another key difference is the fact that when it comes to electricity use, smart meters can be used as a means to incentivise particular customer behaviours. For example, time of use tariffs mean that customers pay a different price for the power they use at different times of day, allowing utilities to increase or decrease costs across a 24-hour period to best manage demand loads across the network.

For water use, there are no time of use tariffs required to spread the load across the system; and in the current market, customers aren’t incentivised to use more or less water in any greater way than the fact that by using less water they will have a reduced water bill.

However, in the years to come, it’s worth noting that should we see a return to drought conditions, where water restrictions are reintroduced, smart water meters will provide an effective means for actually enforcing restrictions such as those relating to time and quantity of use.

The next steps

Given all the benefits associated with rolling out smart water meters, the question remains: when will we see smart meters rolled out in our homes? Naturally, there will be costs associated with the installation of smart meters, but the benefits available to the water utility and its customers will be huge.

If you’re interested in learning more about how smart water meters can help your utility, the team from CSC Australia can help. As one of the world’s only independent IT services providers, CSC is a trusted partner to approximately 2,500 public and private-sector organisations worldwide.

For more information, contact CSC Australia’s Principal Consultant, Utilities Cesare Tizi on +61 402 059 836 or via email at [email protected].

Opinion

Utility spoke to Cesare Tizi, along with Harry Kestin, Regional Sales Director, APAC at Bit Stew Systems and Mark Ewan, Global General Manager for Energy & Utilities at CSC for an exclusive video series which looks at some of the global trends currently having an impact on utility industries around the world.

Click to view videos below:

 

To view the full video series, head to www.utilitymagazine.com.au/video

 

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