5 considerations for water utilities wanting to go ‘smart’


According to the UN’s water agency, UN-Water, two billion people worldwide live in countries that experience high water stress.

Driven by the need to improve operational efficiencies and revenues, cut down on wastage, and enhance customer service, water utilities are increasingly turning to advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), including smart meters.

Utilities find themselves under increasing financial pressure from non-technical water losses – including potable water that is lost in the system through leaks – and inefficient revenue recovery that results in millions being lost due to incorrect billing and theft.

This article was originally published in Smart Energy International 3-2019. Read the full digimag here or subscribe to receive a print copy here.

Harnessing technology such as the Internet of Things (IoT), connectivity, and data analytics not only helps to better manage infrastructure and reduce losses, but also promises to bring important change to the ways in which water utilities, in particular, currently operate.

Little wonder, then, that AMI is a massive growth area globally as the world becomes more urbanised and city planners fast-track intelligent IT infrastructure for tomorrow’s smart cities.

Unpacking AMI

AMI is a system that integrates smart meters, communications networks and data management, constituting a fundamental change to the water utilities industry.

It offers vastly expanded capabilities; positively affecting the way utilities capture data, bill for usage, and interact with their customers.

Apart from faster, more accurate capturing of data – and resultant billing – utilities further stand to benefit from early leak and fault detection; ensuring accurate water balancing across zones by using synchronised meter readings; being able to monitor infrastructure in areas with limited access; and receiving alerts if the meter is tampered with.

Additionally, linking a water management device to a pulse output water meter enables near real-time two-way communication, configuration and valve control, as well as the option for Standard Transfer Specification (STS)-approved prepaid water supply.

Here are five critical issues for utilities to consider in their quest to become ‘smarter’:

1. Broader industry partnerships

Among the drivers of growth in AMI are private sector companies introducing innovative products and solutions reredefining smart metering. There is also interest from large telecoms operators who recognise the opportunity to add services to their current offerings.

2. Infrastructure and maintenance

Smart metering enables more accurate, real-time data monitoring – helping utilities to reduce the time taken to identify and fix leaks by flagging water losses earlier. Not only will this save costs, but it also means that greater focus and more investment can be directed toward the proactive maintenance of water infrastructure – critical in the developing world.

3. Changing skills requirements

Switching to smart water metering increases the skill level required from those who are involved in the installation, management and maintenance of metering infrastructure. As the use of this technology grows, the skills required will extend beyond basic plumbing into more advanced skills, including IT and communications technologies.

4. Customer service and behaviour

Utilities will be able to proactively monitor customers’ accounts; identify issues, complaints and queries; and resolve them faster than they are currently able to.

Additionally, initial studies have shown that once consumers have full visibility of their usage data – via a mobile or web app, for example – their water consumption drops by approximately 15%.

5. Regulatory compliance

With near real-time two-way communication and valve control, smart meters can give prepaid customers the ability to top up their water allocation, while also catering for developing countries’ free basic water requirements – all managed at the device level.

In summary, when coupled with increased billing accuracy, the long-term benefits of investing in smart water metering surely outweigh the higher initial capital outlay needed.

As such, the growth prospects for smart water metering are enormous.

This is why, in addition to the financial and operational benefits, utilities are increasingly including smarter water management as part of their Smart City development programmes. SEI

About the author

Marcus Thulsidas is the Business Development Director of Utility Systems, a smart water management solutions company. He played a fundamental role in the development of the first commercially available Standard Transfer Specification (STS) Association approved prepayment water management device in 2011.