Smart water metering: navigating the path to efficiency

Author: Nathan Malcolm
Smart Water Meter 03

At a glance

The new water reform process on the horizon is a both a challenge and opportunity for councils, utilities and water services council-controlled organisations. This is the moment for these entities to move towards fairer, more efficient and cost-effective services.
With the new water reform process on the horizon, councils, utilities and water services council-controlled organisations face significant opportunities.

When it comes to drinking water supply systems, two operational strategies stand out: aligning customer charges with operational costs and striving to minimise those costs. Water metering systems are among the most effective tools for achieving both of these goals. They provide a clearer link between customer water use and billing, while also enabling the utility to better understand and minimise Unaccounted for Water (UFW).

However, according to Motu Economic and Public Policy Research from Victoria University, only 14 out of 67 councils in New Zealand have implemented universal water metering and are charging volumetrically as of 2022.

Knowledge is power. Accurate metering data enables early leak detection, which can significantly reduce or even eliminate the need for extensive capital works. International studies have shown that even basic/manual metering systems can reduce UFW by at least 15%. Additional benefits include improved water pressures, a reduction in operational costs and fairer billing for customers - ensuring they only pay for what they use. If consumers have an incentive to reduce how much water they use, utilities may be able to defer investment in expanding water supplies.

Evaluating the data from existing meters, whether they be analogue or older digital ones, can build a strong business case for renewing, enhancing or expanding meter systems. For instance, GHD’s assessment and review of TasWater’s 180,000-meter fleet in Tasmania, including both automatic and manual meters, involved multi-criteria analysis and strategic planning. This process provided a business case for upgrading to an advanced metering system and included procurement management advice, provision of draft specifications and assessment of vendor submissions. The initial pilot, involving implementation of 40,000 new smart meters, began in late 2016 and was completed in 2019.

The smart digital metering pilot delivered an 8% improvement in the measurement of billed water volumes when compared to the in-service older mechanical water meters. The successful application of the technology, both as Automated Meter Reading (AMR) for drive-by reads and Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) for remote reads via fixed radio networks, was clearly demonstrated during the deployment of the advanced meters.

Whether your system lacks meters entirely, relies on manual readings or uses older smart meters, upgrading to modern smart water metering systems offers numerous benefits for both water providers and their customers. However, careful implementation and data management are crucial, as the ‘garbage in, garbage out’ (GIGO) principle applies here just like any system.

In 2021, our Senior Technical Director for Water Efficiency, Edgar Johnson, published a paper with the Australian Water Association, exploring the intricacies of smart metering. His findings highlighted that metering alone doesn’t ensure quality data. A flexible approach is essential to navigate technological and regulatory landscapes and facilitate development of risk mitigation strategies in order to implement the optimal metering solution.

The shift to modern smart water metering systems presents substantial opportunities to enhance water management and reduce water loss. Success hinges on careful planning, implementation and ongoing evaluation. By adopting a forward-looking approach, water supply providers can maximise the benefits of smart metering technologies, increasing their operational efficiency and delivering fairer pricing for their customers. Embracing this approach can help develop more efficient, data-driven water management strategies that can better adapt to future advancements and regulatory change.