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No more ‘code orange’ with smart water meters?

The Belgian summer of 2018 was a dry one. The alarm stage for draughts (‘code orange’) was in force for over 40 days in a row. “By introducing smart water meters in Flemish households, we could significantly reduce the number and length of periods of critical water scarcity,” says Frédéric Deleye, business process analyst utilities at Trilations. Here’s how smart water meters can help prevent or manage a draught.

 

In Flanders, when code orange is in force, you are not allowed to wash your car or water your lawn. This was the case for most of the long, hot summer of 2018. Public opinion believes we are to expect more and longer periods of ‘code orange’ in the future, due to climate change. But this doesn’t have to be the case, says Frédéric Deleye: “Smart water meters can help reduce water consumption, increase the efficiency of water usage and postpone the alarm stage in periods of water scarcity. They also allow for a better management of a draught.” So what are smart water meters exactly and why do(n’t) we install them in Flanders?  

 

CUSTOMER SATISFACTION UP, OPERATIONAL COSTS DOWN

A smart water meter is a digital water meter that communicates bidirectionally: meter readings are sent automatically to the water operator at regular time intervals, while operators can manage smart meters from a distance whenever necessary. “The advantages are numerous,” says Deleye. “The remote reading makes the water operator’s yearly visit redundant, which is convenient for customers and cost-effective for operators. This is especially the case in coastal regions, where it is often difficult to schedule a meter reading visit, because a lot of the properties are second homes.[1] More importantly, smart water meters allow for a correct billing, based on real-time consumption data as opposed to estimations based on past usage. Greater bill accuracy means less corrections, less paperwork, less disputes in urban areas with lots of migration and – in short – less interaction with the operator’s call center.[2]” So why do smart water meters remain a curiosity, while smart electricity meters are about to be rolled-out nationwide[3]? Deleye: “This is due to their high installation and IT-costs. But the rollout of digital electricity meters will undoubtedly provide valuable learnings, for example on privacy issues. At present, De Watergroep has conducted some pilot projects[4] on smart water metering systems and water-link in Antwerp is preparing to start a mass rollout by the end of 2018.”

LEAKAGE AND FRAUD DETECTION

In a hot and dry period, when water is becoming scarce, it’s essential to reduce water consumption and increase the efficiency of water usage. How can smart water meters contribute to that? “They are the perfect device for leakage and fraud detection. Did you know that 20% of all drinking water in Flanders is lost through leakage?[5]”, Deleye asks. “To reduce the amount of ‘non-revenue water’ – water that is lost in the water supply and distribution network, before it reaches the customer – we need a ‘smart grid’ water system, that controls all water towers, pump installations and production units and that combines District Metered Area’s (DMA’s) with smart meters and data management.[6] Such system can point out exactly where and when leakages occur.” In addition, residential smart water meters will detect any leakages inside the house that the customer may (in case of fraud…) or may not (in case of a running toilet…) be aware of.

A QUESTION OF CONTROL…

“Once code orange is in force, smart water meters can help manage the draught,” Deleye continues. “Today, water utilities have little to no control over the situation. Customers either follow the restrictions on water usage or they don’t – it’s very difficult to give violators a fine. Smart water meters provide operators with a range of controlling options. They can either monitor and fine overconsumption, assign maximum volumes per household or stimulate efficient water usage through an advanced dynamic tariff structure, with prices going up during a draught.” By reducing the water pressure, operators can even ensure that lawn sprinklers and garden hoses aren’t working properly… “But smart water meters aren’t a punitive instrument for customers,” Deleye emphasizes. “On the contrary, they raise awareness and promote sustainability in a large group of water users.”

… AND A QUESTION OF MOTIVATION

“A study by the Australian Water Association shows that immediate user feedback can lead to water savings of 15%,” Deleye says. “With an in-home display of a smart water meter installed near the shower, users demonstrate an increased motivation to moderate their water consumption[7].” Similar results were found in several studies on potential electricity savings due to smart electricity meters combined with regular user feedback.[8]

To conclude, Frédéric Deleye sums up: “By motivating customers to moderate their water usage, smart water meters help reduce water consumption. By meticulously detecting leakages and fraud, they significantly increase the efficiency of water usage. Therefore, they help postpone the critical moment in a period of water scarcity when ‘code orange’ comes into force. And when a draught does occur, smart water meters provide operators with a range of options – from fines to dynamic tariffs…- to effectively manage the situation.” Dry summers may remain a future challenge, but smart water meters will help us rise to the occasion.

About Trilations

Leading Energy&Utilities companies are focused on moving to more customer-centric business models and achieving operational excellence. Advancing technologies, such as smart meters and grids, cloud computing, digital, data and predictive analytics, and social media, create opportunities to launch new products and services and deliver a more retail-like customer experience. At the same time, technology is a key enabler for driving operational improvements that cut costs, generate competitive advantages, improve regulatory compliance, increase security, and drive the effective response to climate change and extreme weather.

Trilations currently supports Energy&Utilities companies in their digital smart meter projects, and in their transition to data driven digital companies.

[1] Says AGSO Knokke-Heist in Vlaamse Milieumaatschappij, Verkennend Onderzoek Slimme Watermeter, 2017, p 34

[2] Ibid., p 39

[3] The Belgian rollout is scheduled for January 2019, https://www.vlaanderen.be/nl/bouwen-wonen-en-energie/elektriciteit-aardgas-en-verwarming/de-digitale-energiemeter

[4] Vlaamse Milieumaatschappij, Verkennend Onderzoek Slimme Watermeter, 2017. p 36-40

[5] https://www.hbvl.be/cnt/dmf20170919_03081304/20-procent-van-drinkwater-gaat-verloren-door-lekken

[6] Says FARYS in Vlaamse Milieumaatschappij, Verkennend Onderzoek Slimme Watermeter, 2017, p 40

[7] Says AWA in Vlaamse Milieumaatschappij, Verkennend Onderzoek Slimme Watermeter, 2017, p 29

[8] See KEMA, Financiële haalbaarheid slimme energiemeters in Vlaanderen; een kosten-batenanalyse in maatschappelijk perspectief, p 3; see University of Oxford, The effectiveness of feedback on energy consumption, 2006; see the results of a real-time feedback pilot at Hydro One in Ontario cited in the Oracle White Paper Smart Metering for Water Utilities, 2009, p 6

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