Future-proofing French water utilities – a case study


By Nicholas McDiarmid, Editor Smart Energy International

The European Commission in its 2008 paper on water scarcity and drought stressed the value of water-metering as a measure to promote water efficiency. While metering has been a subject of controversy in the past, particularly in the UK, many EU member states have compulsory metering in private homes. Green campaigners argue that water-metering is essential to improve water-efficiency because it is the only way to measure leakage. Water-metering also contributes to efficiency by helping national and local governments to price water correctly so as to manage demand. It has been suggested that households with a water meter fitted use about 20% less water than those with no meter fitted.

However, either by way of retro-fitting or the installation of new meters, the installation of water meters that allow for two-way communications has not received the attention or drive that Smart Metering and AMI infrastructure has in the electricity sector. There are many reasons for this, both technical and legal, and even to this day, a sound business case for smart water metering is not easy to make.

In an interview with Smart Energy International, Mr Eric Goetz, Project Manager for Saur’s customer telemetering projects, provided an overview of the company’s work in Smart Metering in France.

The Saur Group is one of the three leading and established providers of outsourced services for local authorities in the water and waste management industries in France. It has grown from a local operator focused on water services contracts to an established provider of water and waste management services. It has also expanded its operations across France and overseas, and broadened its customer base to include both local authorities and industrial customers.


Coronis Waveflow attached
to a water meter

Saur’s first venture in Smart Water Metering began in 2002 in the French city of Les Sables d’Olonnes. In a European-first, Saur decided to explore the possibilities of a two-way communication based telemetering system, based on a number of factors. Les Sables d’Olonnes is very much a vacation city, with lowinhabitation during off-peak periods. In and of itself, this posed a great challenge to the local authority as they could not establish regular access to properties year-round in order take readings. Meter reading was previously a laborious and time-consuming By Nicholas McDiarmid, Editor Smart Energy International practice as meters were often located within buildings or homes, and inhabitants needed to be on-site in order for Saur employees to personally read the meters. In addition, Saur was confronted with an additional challenge: how to check all water meters quickly and efficiently in order to measure water consumption from any given day and send all invoices at the same time. Delays in sending out invoices led to complications in the accounting and metering departments, as well as bills which did not reflect the real status of customers’ usage. Currently in France, there are two invoices per year, one on estimated consumption and the other on real consumption.

According to a survey conducted by Saur, 96% of their customers would prefer invoices based on their real consumption. According to current French law, a water utility is only required to make one meter reading a year. This has served to block the adoption to a certain degree and makes Saur and their client’s decision to become early adopters even more meaningful.

Saur conducted an exhaustive study of radio technologies available on the market for deployment in Les Sables d’Olonnes and eventually decided that Wavenis, a technology developed by Coronis (part of the Elster Group), with ultra-low-power, longrange radio solution was the wireless platform that best fitted their needs. “The fact that Wavenis technology is bi-directional was a determining factor in making our final choice,” says Eric Goetz, Saur’s Project Manager for customer telemetering deployments. “It means two things: Wavenis enables us not only to make sure that the information has been received, but also to check the meters whenever we need to.” Other key determining factors were the long range and low-cost properties as well as the fact that Wavenis is a field-proven technology. That the technology was developed in France was also important given the fact that Saur was about to add a new component to its capabilities. “When you are learning something new, it never hurts to literally speak the same language,” added Goetz.


Some of the many products that
use Wavenis technology

According to Goetz, the use of wireless technology and its associated network is helping lead to the evolution at Saur, and for the water industry as well. “Since the venture in Les Sables d’Olonnes, which was the original AMR network, we have installed several project sites, most notably three networks in France: Ars en Ré, which has 11,000 points, Razac sur L’isle, which has 20,000 points and Sainte Cecile Les Vignes, which has 30,000. This means that Saur is now managing a communications network with the potential to offer a number of new services.” These include leak detection – for both end-users and for organisations that monitor water networks, alarms for tampering, ability to monitor your consumption online, and other services that enable water conservation. Goetz observes that a primary motivator in installing these networks is really preparing for the future. “Obviously immediate benefits include more accurate meter reading, but the real advantages we are preparing for is in being able to offer local authorities,our customers, a range of services that may be legally required, either on a national level or as mandated by the European Union. If you look at it, Smart Metering is actually too expensive right now, and one cannot expect end-users to pay for it, so it is not really a rational choice. In essence, we are future-proofing.” At this time it is not easy for water utilities to realise a return on investment. The primary intention for Saur is to be able to offer these services as and when its customers require them.

From an organisational point of view, the wireless data transmission technology has enabled employees, who are dedicated to meters, to spend more time on service enhancing projects such as network maintenance or customer care. Other benefits as a result include Saur’s ability to offer services that support water-saving programmes, thereby benefiting both its customer base and the environment. In fact, the ability to help customers economise water is directly related to its ability to closely monitor the customers’ water consumption and alert them of any suspected leaks or inconsistencies.


Wavenis provides a highly optimised ultra-low-power
and long-range RF platform for specialised
M2M applications

The collaboration between Saur and Coronis has evolved since 2002. In 2007, Saur added the Wavelook product from Coronis to its offering (called DOMOVEILLE™). Based on Wavenis technology, DOMOVEILLE™ is an in-home battery powered display device that allows customers to view their own consumption levels first-hand. In 2007 two major events occured, Coronis launched the Wavenis Open Standard Alliance and Coronis was acquired by Elster. The Wavenis-OSA is designed to foster both innovation and cooperation amongst its members. “At Saur, we think that the creation of the Wavenis Open Standard Alliance and the addition of the Elster to the mix were very important,” explains Goetz. “These events provide the guarantee that the technology in which we invest is going to be relevant and long-lasting. It is our responsibility to be able to tell our clients that we do not develop proprietary technology which would bind them to us uniquely.”

According to Goetz, one of the key challenges in deploying the network has been internal: “We have encountered natural resistance to this new technology. Water utilities have been very slow to change with regards to adopting wireless networks into their product mix. And the same applies to Saur.” In essence, companies like Saur are entering a new market entirely: managing wireless networks, as is the case globally for other companies and utilities exploring this market.

Wavenis technology provides long-range machine-tomachine connections and network services for autonomous devices with extremely limited battery resources. Wavenis OEM solutions from Coronis are the ideal way for VARs, integrators, and manufacturers to add new and improved value-added services in fast-growing wireless sensor markets. With over 3.5 million units up and running in small, medium, and large-scale wireless mesh networks around the world, Wavenis technology addresses the specific characteristics and needs of today’s smart sensor and telemetry environments. More than just a wireless technology, Coronis’ complete ready-to use technology platforms can be deployed in OEM solutions that open up new product and service possibilities for companies. The technology was initially created in 2000 by wireless experts to meet the needs of the utility metering industry as well as to provide a wireless standard for other sensorrelated sectors with similar cost-performance constraints. This includes home automation, security and social alarms, smart cities, healthcare, centralised building management, access control, cold-chain monitoring, plus long-range UHF RFID applications for identifying, tracking, and locating people and objects.

The Wavenis Open Standard Alliance is an independent, non-profit, technology standards organisation that was created in 2008 with the mission of opening and standardising Wavenis technology for the market. It is also responsible for managing the Wavenis technology roadmap. Coronis and Orange, the two founding members, as well as other members are leaders in the various branches of the M2M spectrum, bringing their wealth of experience and expertise together to the benefit of the alliance. Wavenis-OSA is defining the specifications for the Wavenis communication platform as well as working to define service applications to meet market demands.


Wavenis architecture supports flexible
machine-to-machine networks of any size

Wavenis-enabled wireless products support mesh network configurations scalable up to any size. Data exchange can be partially or entirely automated, depending on the application. Wavenis wireless technology provides the ultra-low-power and long-range connections required by today’s most demanding networked devices, including:

  • Ultra-low power consumption
  • Long wireless range capability
  • Robustness against physical and electrical interference
  • Openness to WAN and complementary wireless technologies
  • Developer APIs and product development toolkit


  • Ultra-low-power and long-range wireless sensor network solutions
  • Multiple-year battery life
  • Operates in license-free ISM 433 MHz, 868 MHz, 915 MHz frequency bands
  • ETS300-220 / FCC15.247 compliant
  • Fast FHSS, data interleaving, FEC
  • Resistant to physical barriers and electrical interference
  • Point-to-point, point-to-multipoint (broadcast, polling), and repeater modes
  • Self-configuration and dynamic routing algorithm optimised for ULP networks
  • Scalable wireless mesh network topologies
  • Relaxed synchronisation features
  • Designed for reliability, power savings, network coexistence
  • IP compatibility currently being studied
In a recent interview with Smart Energy International, Christophe Dugas of Coronis and the President of the Wavenis-OSA explained the concept of Energy Scavenging, a technology that could potentially obviate the need for batteries in a number of applications, but notably has potential for two-way communications in water and gas metering.

At present, energy scavenging can gleen energy from the following sources: temperature, vibrations, movement and noise. Key factors in scavenging energy from these, or any other sources, include efficiency of conversion, and sufficient harvesting. One such technology that is fairly well developed is push-button energy, whereby an individual would push a button, making contact with quartz, which would thus convert into energy. ENOcean, a developer of wireless sensors, is very involved in this application, and currently uses energy harvesting in the product fields of light sensors, occupancy sensors, industrial switches and remote switches. “What ENOcean is proposing is interesting for lighting solutions, where you can have the human element present, but for metering it’s just not practical. One of the primary advantages for AMI solutions is that you do not need to physically interact with the system once it’s deployed,” added Dugas. The ENOcean Alliance is a consortium of companies that develops and promotes self-powered wireless monitoring and control systems for sustainable buildings by formalising the interoperable wireless standard.

While there is a way to go before full-scale two-way communication can be supported by energy scavenging (Dugas estimates another three years or so), the current cost of batteries as a component of water or gas meter is roughly 15 percent of the total cost, and with the small amounts of energy required to transmit data, this technology could well be the way of the future. To entirely replace the battery in a water or gas Smart Meter, it is vital that the energy source be strong enough to support signal transmission through any number of barriers and to be able to deliver consistent, reliable service. Needless to say, the communication technology needs to be a low energy consumption technology, and the Coronis system supports the open standard Wavenis platform.

In order to provide two capabilities to large scale networks, it is important to be able to anticipate where all the devices will be, from end-point meters to the access points.