Last month, Thames Water announced it would be investing £11.7 billion in infrastructure and leak reduction systems. With regulator Ofwat challenging all water providers to achieve at least a 15% leakage reduction by 2025, they are just one of a number of water suppliers assessing options for improving leak identification and driving down wastage.
To date, smart water meters have been billed as one of the solutions to the problem enabling identification of customer supply pipe leakage and according to Water UK, around half of households have a water meter installed. Despite this, overall water leakage across England and Wales has remained static for the past ten years.
The problem lies with the smart water meters being installed -- many lack the technology required to help water companies to identify leaks within customer properties or even stop a leak before it becomes a major issue. Over the coming years, water companies need to look towards fixed network smart water meters to help meet its leakage reduction targets.
Smart meters are gradually being installed across the UK as the country tries to reduce energy and water usage. (Image: Arqiva)
Instant leak detection
Most water providers today have some form of smart water metering program in place, however many have settled for short-term solutions and rolled out smart water meters with limited functionality. It is one thing for a water meter to accurately identify a leak, but the real value comes with how quickly it detects it and feeds that information back to the utility provider.
Many smart water-metering programs involve drive-by or walk-by meter readings once or twice a year, which give very limited information beyond overall consumption and active leaks. While this is progression from the days of traditional manual-read meters (which some companies are still installing), the average run-time of customer side leaks (i.e. the time between a leak starting and being fixed) remains at up to nine months -- in which time water wastage could be astronomical.
This is where fixed network smart water meters are so valuable. By sending hourly readings to the utility provider, leak run-times are effectively reduced to two to three weeks, meaning a considerable saving of water.
A predictive model
Many companies have already started responding to fixed networks -- we actually just announced an extension of our smart water fixed network trial with Anglian Water earlier this year. However, the true value will be seen once installations become more widespread across the country over the coming years.
As the market matures, the industry will add more monitoring devices (i.e. noise and pressure loggers) into the network, and data analytics and artificial intelligence solutions will analyse the wealth of data available to make accurate predictions as to when burst events are imminent.
The smart water metering fixed network will not only be essential in helping suppliers quickly respond to and minimize the run-time of leaks, but also become the base for these new monitoring devices, allowing leaks to be tackled before they impact customers.
Inspiring customer action
Of course, it is not just leaks that are responsible for the overall loss of water across a network -- the individuals using the water also have a significant impact.
As water companies expand their web of smart meters across the country, there is an increased amount of data available to develop a real-time view of water supply. While this information is crucial for efficient supply management, water providers should not ignore the potential to use the data to inform customers about their own levels of water consumption.
Naturally, consumers are concerned about spending on utilities, meaning they share a vested interest with the water companies in reducing wastage. Fixed networks provide suppliers with the opportunity to influence consumer behavior and equip customers with the necessary tools to use water more efficiently.
The two-way communication capability of fixed networks allows providers to remotely reconfigure alarm thresholds and instantly identify and alert customers to problems. Homeowners can access information through online portals, helping them closely monitor and control their habits.
Through these portals, water companies can also build better relationships with their consumers, advising them on ways they can reduce wastage (and therefore spending), and generally make them more conscious of their use of water. This is a simple step many believe could lead to a 12% reduction in wastage.
The UK needs to reduce water wastage and leakage by 15% by 2025. (Image: Arqiva)
With data and analytics having such a fundamental role in improving the UK's water efficiency in the future, it is essential that meters are connected by resilient technologies that are designed to handle the everyday challenges of water companies.
In future, the slightest fault in a smart water network could be the difference between saving and losing thousands of liters of water and millions of pounds. For example, if a cellular-based network suddenly lost signal (as can happen with mobile devices) or couldn't handle the amount of data on its network (a concern given that the cellular networks are open to the general public with no controls on the number of devices that may try to connect), the transfer of vital information indicating a significant leak could be delayed or miscommunicated.
Water meters are often located in awkward places (i.e. cupboards, wardrobes or even underground pits beneath cast iron lids), so reliable connectivity is an all-important consideration. The industry needs smart water meters with networks that can retain a continuous connection to the host and provide communications from even the hardest to reach areas -- Arqiva's fixed networks tick both boxes.
The water industry is certainly in the midst of radical transformation -- ambitious leakage reduction targets, the threat of Ofwat fines and the emergence of disruptive technologies mean this sector is going to continue to change for a number of years.
Water companies need a smart metering solution that can drive efficiencies in the short-term, but also be future-proofed to keep up with the demands of this transforming market. The case for widespread deployment of fixed network smart water meters has never been more urgent, nor stronger.
Tony Anderson, Business Development Manager, Arqiva