Smart water meters in Abu Dhabi


The Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority (ADWEA) in the United Arab Emirates recently completed the installation of 100,000 smart water meters for domestic users. A number of years in the planning, specific conditions of the region drove the installation. According to Alex Elder, managing director of Smartmeter – a division of Severn Trent and the company that supplied the meters – three elements guided the process.

ADWEA, like all utilities dealing with water in the region, faced the ongoing – and fairly rapid – deterioration of the installed mechanical meters. The conditions of the region mean that a lot of debris in the system – particles not removed in the purification process – wound up in the reticulation system. Water sources include aquifers, which are rich in particle debris and calcium carbonate, and the practise of mixing this with desalinated water meant that this debris caused rapid wear and tear on mechanical meters.

The utility was also registering a significant loss of revenue as a result of billing disputes. This was not only because of the widespread practise of estimates instead of actual readings from the meter readers, but also because the intermittent pumping of water into the networks leaves a lot of air in the system, which the mechanical meters register as water – only seven times faster. This became such a problem that ADWEA had to make a lot of revenue concessions to customers, whilst also driving up the cost of water.

These were compelling reasons for ADWEA to then issue a tender for extensive project, requiring the supply and installation of smart water meters, with units from Smartmeter being specified. This was awarded to Matrix, a local firm of consulting engineers, which oversaw the supply installation.

Installation and AMR

Logistically, this was an 50 teams of installation technicians working around the clock.  Abu Dhabi’s residential buildings comprise mostly large apartment buildings, which simplified the process to a degree. All meters were replaced entirely and some refurbishment of the pipe work was required, especially in the older apartment blocks.The decision as to which automated meter reading (AMR) system to use also had impact on the installation. Three merits of three AMR systems were debated:

  • A fixed radio network, in which radio signals are communicated to a data concentrator and then relayed via a central network to a master server
  • A wired network in which all the meters in a building are wired together, with each building having its own data concentrator
  • An intermediate AMR system.

Elder notes that a compelling feature of the debate was the fact that an international industry standard regarding AMR is still far from being established. “The intermediate system that we proposed has several advantages. ADWEA employs a large number of meter readers, whom they were loath to make redundant, and the intermediate system allows for a more organic decision regarding AMR in the future. ADWEA will be able to determine more specifically which AMR would best suit a particular area.”

Intermediate AMR

The system that was ultimately adopted comprised a fully functional AMR that is read manually. Each meter has its own induction pad, which the reader then reads manually with an induction probe. By simply touching the probe to the pad, it picks up the data and stores it. “AMR finally allows for bespoke meter reading solutions.

It is no longer a case of one size fits all,” says Elder. “Some older buildings are a real challenge to retrofit and therefore wiring is not a good idea, and radio signals would be a better choice. More modern buildings often have intelligent wiring systems and can accommodate data transfer over powerlines. This intermediate AMR system has facilitated the immediate installation of smart meters, but without committing ADWEA to a single AMR decision.

Elder also notes that the touch pad system requires more discipline from the readers themselves, as it will eliminate estimates. This in turn should also reduce the amount of time and money spent on resolving billing disputes. The installation of the 100,000 smart meters in Abu Dhabi began in February 2006 and was completed in September 2006