Putting a value on water through metering and billing


Sharon Nunes,
Vice President for
Big Green
Innovations, IBM
Armonk, NY, U.S.A. — (METERING.COM) — March 17, 2009 – Metering and billing for water is crucial to raising awareness of usage patterns by individuals, industry and agriculture and its value as a resource, according to a new Global Innovation Outlook on water from IBM.

Citing as an example the “free water” that has been provided to villages across India, the Outlook says that though the water is free, there are many opportunity costs associated with its procurement. For example, villagers can spend half a day traveling to a standpipe, waiting in line, and transporting the water back to their homes. For this reason an accurate and fair pricing model to provide a monetary incentive for infrastructure build and efficiency of use is necessary, otherwise the issues of wastefulness, pollution and scarcity would never be mitigated.

“The cheaper water is, the more we’ll use,” says David Zetland, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley. “But if we raise the price to where people start paying attention, they will quickly realize that the more water they use the less profit they get from it.”

Laura Shenkar, principal at San Francisco-based Artemis Project, says a triple threat in terms of water supply is being faced – scarcity and floods, climate change, and a total breakdown of infrastructure.

Water infrastructure is three times more expensive to build and maintain than electricity infrastructure, with much of it running underground. However, neglecting it can be even more costly. In some cities 15 to 20 percent of water is lost to leaks, and in developing countries the losses are generally even higher. Building and repairing water infrastructure is disruptive, inconvenient and time-consuming, but it must get done. Moreover, there are many opportunities to not just fix or rebuild existing infrastructure, but to do it better and smarter, adding intelligence and instrumentation such as smart meters and sensors for leak detection into the systems.

As part of the brainstorming process for the publication participants were asked if they had $10 billion to invest in any water-related startup, what would it be? While various answers were offered the one that came up most often was a massive public relations effort to raise the level of awareness around water to the level of that of climate change.

“Water management awareness and accountability starts and ends with education. Consumers can be educated through more explicit labeling of virtual water content in the products they buy and real time metering of the water they consume at home. Businesses can closely study the true cost of their water use and efficiency gain potential across their supply chains for more active water management strategies,” the report says.

The Outlook was released alongside the unveiling by IBM of its first portfolio of smart water services and technologies, aimed at helping to monitor and manage water more effectively. Among the solutions on offer is water metering to improve the management of water supply and demand by integrating data between the dozens of stakeholders involved and providing all stakeholders with consistent, real time information to help them work together to make critical decisions about water supply in a geographic region.

“Regardless of industry or geography, smarter water management is an issue faced by every business and government on the planet,” said Sharon Nunes, Vice President for Big Green Innovations at IBM. “Without sufficient insight into near and long term factors affecting water supply and usage, such as access, quality, cost and re-use, one increasingly runs the risk of failure.”