Smart water meters: evolving rapidly
There are many parallels between the development of smart water meters and the development of electric vehicles, not only from a technological perspective but also from a social perspective.
Hybrid vehicles, which combine an internal combustion engine with a rechargeable battery and electric motor, were launched in the late 90s and have since become commonplace. Pure electric vehicles were launched in 2010 and their adoption in many countries is well advanced. In Australia, a mix of high price, long distances, range anxiety and lack of charging infrastructure has meant people have been reluctant to fully commit yet. But battery technology is rapidly increasing vehicle ranges and the charging infrastructure is growing, so there should be significant change in the next five years.
Similarly, over the past decade the water industry has moved into smart water metering by using the hybrid technology of attaching electronic data collection and transmission devices onto mechanical meters.
There have been numerous trials of different types of hybrid smart water meters over this period. Some of the challenges faced were the need to build proprietary communications networks and software solutions to transmit and process the data. With multiple different water meters, transmission devices, networks and software technologies to choose from, many water utilities and councils have taken a cautious wait-and-see approach.
We are now seeing the introduction of the next generation of smart ultrasonic water meters that bring a number of advantages. The ultrasonic technology has no moving parts and maintains accuracy over the life of the meter, unlike mechanical meters where the accuracy can drift. Improvements in power usage mean that battery life is now 16 years. These meters have fully integrated data collection and wireless communications, and inbuilt alarms for leaks, burst pipes and empty pipes, making the overall package very cost-effective.
We are also seeing the development of more open and standardised communications networks and these smart ultrasonic water meters are available in configurations that work with these open networks.
The benefits of adopting smart water meters include the elimination of manual meter reading costs and potential reading errors resulting in estimated bills. Also, the reduction in water consumption through customer visibility of consumption data can defer the need to build new infrastructure. There is also the potential reduction of liability for refunds under hidden leaks policies due to early customer notification of leaks.
There are also social drivers that are becoming more significant that support the business case for smart water meters.
With the universal adoption of smartphones and the internet, people expect instant access to information. Increasingly, this will be the case for individual water usage data. There is also a growing social desire to positively contribute to environmental issues. One top-of-mind issue is minimising water usage and wastage, particularly during drought. Smart water meters give people access to near real-time water usage information, allowing them to manage their water consumption in a meaningful and visible way. There is also a growing social expectation that organisations will provide increased customer service and improved transparency of their services.
All of these factors will see the rapid adoption of smart ultrasonic water meters over the next five years, much like the adoption of electric vehicles.
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