Compulsory metering at Folkestone and Dover Water Services


By Ian McAthy

Folkestone and Dover Water Services Limited (FDWS) is a water-only company based in the southeast of England, serving a population of approximately 160,000 with an average 45 Ml/day of drinking water (Figure 1).


Figure 1 – FDWS water distribution input

FDWS operates in one of the driest regions of England and Wales and has a water resource deficit, as available supplies are insufficient to meet demand under certain dry conditions. The company is currently totally dependent on local groundwater abstraction for its sources, as there are no suitable rivers within or near the area of supply. However, these fragile sources are coming under pressure for reduction, as both the requirements of the Water Framework Directive and the Environment Agency Catchment Abstraction Management Strategies (CAMS) are likely to conclude that groundwater in the area is over-abstracted.

Rainfall in the area is about 80 percent of the national average and drought occurs more frequently than in the rest of the UK. FDWS conservatively forecasts average demand to grow by about 3 percent over the next decade. However, other factors such as the delayed closure of the Dungeness Power Stations, expansion of the Port of Dover and the new high speed rail link into central London may increase this figure significantly.

Under statutory powers, metering would increase to around 65 percent by 2015. With the ability to meter compulsorily, a target of 90 percent of domestic customers charged by meter by 2015 is achievable (Figure 2). From the company’s previous metering activity it is anticipated that consumption will reduce by an average 10 to 15 percent per metered customer, compared with the unmeasured sector.

Having considered available options FDWS concluded it was essential to manage demand through an acceleration of its metering programme in order to secure supplies to customers over the next ten years and beyond. The company applied for and was granted “water scarcity” status with effect from April 2006.

FDWS led the way for the UK water industry in becoming the first company to apply for and achieve water scarcity status. The granting of this status by the Secretary of State for the Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) acknowledged the long term challenge of supplying water in FDWS’s area and is an essential step forward in demand management, as it gives the company the power to introduce meters on a compulsory basis.

Domestic customers who continue to receive water on unmeasured supplies do not have the same clear incentive. In the past ten years, domestic consumption in the FDWS area has grown by around 7 percent. This is not sustainable in the longer term.


Figure 2 – Household meter
penetration at FDWS

FDWS proposes to use metering to reduce demand through identifying individual property consumption and then sharing this information with the customer. With knowledge of the volume taken at individual properties, both the company and individual customers can begin to make judgements on what is reasonable water usage and moderate their usage to this level. Customers can also control the amount of their water and wastewater bills through managing their water use more closely. With per property consumption information available, FDWS has the ability, through tariffs and more targeted communication, to begin to influence people’s consumption patterns towards a sustainable level. Clearly with tariff changes there are winners and losers and as a protection for those adversely affected by changes, the company operates a number of measures, including a “vulnerable group” tariff and charitable trust.

FDWS established a Strategic Stakeholder Group to ensure that its plans are in line with the expectations of regulators and to review activities completed and planned. The membership includes representatives from Defra, Ofwat, the Environment Agency and the Consumer Council for Water.

Since the 1990s FDWS has installed concentric Class “D” positive displacement meters, normally fitted into external boundary boxes in the footpath outside properties. This is the company’s preferred location, as it helps in the identification and reduction of leakage losses from customer’s supply pipes, as well as being readily accessible for reading. Traditional meter reading is still used, with manual eyeball reads entered into an electronic data capture unit that is uploaded to the Hi-Affinity billing database upon return to the office.

All new properties have been metered since 1990 and following the drought in 1995/96, FDWS embarked on an intensive metering programme that included both free “optional” metering and zonal compulsory metering. The zonal compulsory metering was halted in 1997/98 but its effect continues to be seen today in the form of reduced consumption and a reduction in peak period water use in those zones completed.

Before achieving water scarcity status, selective metering had been practised based on “Change of Hands” (CoH). This was introduced in April 2005 and over two years 4,729 properties were metered under the initiative. The majority of commercial properties are already metered and any that are not are now being picked up in the ongoing zonal selective metering.

The justification for metering to reduce demand was relatively easy to demonstrate, although the true impact of metering on customers and the business is still not well understood:

  • How much water does it actually save?
  • How is the effect different for optants and selectively metered properties?
  • How will the demand effects change over time?

In order to address these questions it was decided to start the selective metering programme with a trial area that would provide answers. The area that was selected was the town of Lydd.

There were a number of reasons for choosing this particular town. Lydd is relatively isolated, with just two dedicated feeder mains making total consumption measurement easier and more reliable. Approximately 1,600 properties (800 already metered) make the town statistically significant but small enough to enable analysis of data. A similar sized town nearby, New Romney, is in the same pressure zone and will provide a control to the results seen in Lydd.

A communications programme was drawn up to introduce selective metering to customers in the Lydd area. This included a presentation to the local town council, press releases as well as letters to all those customers that were going to be affected by the metering programme. Contact was also established with local community groups, in order that measures could be put in place to minimise the impact of the installation process and provide assistance to any customers experiencing difficulty or hardship once the meters had been installed.

The installation programme commenced in January 2007 and over the following three months 767 meters were successfully installed. Basic water efficiency information was provided to all properties at that time.

Data collection
For the first year following the installation of the meters, the properties will all be on FDWS’s standard measured tariff. All the meters in both Lydd and New Romney are being read on a quarterly basis. The consumption data is exported from the billing system into a separate database for analysis and reporting.

During the survey phase at Lydd, customers were asked to complete a customer property survey. This captured information on occupancy, property type and number of water fittings around the property. Ultimately 656 (85 percent) of the newly metered properties in Lydd completed the survey.

Using this property specific information, combined with ACORN profiles and the quarterly consumption information gathered, it is planned to analyse for trends in consumption changes throughout the Lydd trial period.

Future trials to be carried out
Following on from the first year on standard tariffs it is proposed to carry out further trials to measure the impact of providing more information on bills, a socially responsible tariff and ultimately a pro-active water efficiency promotion.

The original intention was to trial smart meter technology. Having investigated the cost benefit of current technologies it has been decided instead to embark on a broader communication programme. Smart meters will not be needed, as quarterly meter readings will provide sufficient information to provide customers with:

  • Current quarter’s consumption against the last quarter and same quarter last year
  • Quarterly consumptions in graphical form
  • Actual consumption against average and water efficient properties of similar type
  • Tabulated difference in cost of the above variations, i.e. savings if able to become “water efficient”.

The trial will involve all 1,600 properties in Lydd, both those metered selectively as well as those previously metered. FDWS will also be trialling a socially responsible tariff in the area commencing in April 2008. The tariff is still under discussion with the regulators but is likely to consist of four elements:

  • A standing charge similar to the standard measured standing charge
  • A volume, to cover the average home’s essential use, at a volumetric rate below the standard volumetric rate
  • A higher than standard volumetric rate applied to all water taken over and above the essential volume referred to in 2
  • As a protection to vulnerable customers there will also be an additional volume allowance where there are more than three students under 19 living in the property or if the customer has to use excessive water due to specific medical conditions. (These criteria align generally with the vulnerable group tariff requirements).

The tariff trial is proposed to run for a number of years in order to collect data under different climatic conditions. A targeted water efficiency trial is also planned for Lydd with the installation of water efficient apparatus to selected households in early 2009.

Having established a communication strategy and process for the installation of selective meters FDWS is now rolling this out across its area of supply on a zone by zone basis. This programme is currently scheduled to last until 2013.