Smart Water Meters: Are They the New Norm?

smartphone2013 was a watershed year for the mobile phone market. That was the year during which more smartphones were sold than feature (“dumb”) phones — and analysts predict that, by 2020, 8 out of 10 people living on our planet will own a smartphone. “Smart” is the battle cry of the digital revolution that is transforming all aspects of our lives, including infrastructure sectors that work quietly behind the scenes to provide us with essential services — such as water utilities.

The water utility equivalent of a feature phone is the traditional analog water meter that uses mechanical parts to measure and record water flowing through the meter. Monthly water bills are based on estimated usage, with adjustments being made several times a year when the water meter is actually read by authorized personnel.

The usage of residential water meters is pretty much universal in urban areas in developed countries. In water-distressed regions, such as drought-ridden California, even rural areas are now being mandated to install residential water meters[1]. These meters are typically deployed and maintained by the water utility, and have to be replaced every 6-8 years as mechanical wear-and-tear eventually undermines their accuracy.

The water utility equivalent of a smartphone is the smart water meter. At the very least, a smart water meter is equipped with a battery-powered data transmitter that continuously broadcasts the flow data, which can be picked up either periodically by a walk-by/drive-by receiver (AMR) or continuously by a fixed cellular network (AMI). In either case, there is no need to approach the water meter itself nor to manually record the data. In the case of AMI, the smart water meter becomes the backbone of a full-fledged smart water solution that includes MDM software and data analytics — and the smart meter itself not only transmits data, but can also be controlled remotely through a centralized management system.

In North America, a survey recently conducted among 86 water utilities reveals that nine out of 10 water utilities have a smart water plan and around 40% of the respondents plan to spend between US$1 million and US$5 million over the next 24 months. About 60% of the utilities with smart water plans are implementing AMR solutions, while the rest are deploying AMI/MDM solutions.[2]

US-based market intelligence company Markets and Markets recently published a report that forecasts that the global market for smart water management will grow by 20% over the next five years, driven by government regulations. The value of the market is expected to increase from US$7.34 billion in 2015 to US$18.31 billion by 2020. The largest market will be North America but the Asia Pacific region, where the market is less restricted by legacy infrastructure, will see the highest growth rate.[3]

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Sonata
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Octave

In conclusion, it seems that smart water meters will ultimately replace traditional water meters, and the good news is that smart water meters are getting even smarter. In addition to their ability to transmit flow data and be controlled remotely, there are cutting-edge smart water meters based on ultrasonic technology that have no moving parts and provide highly precise flow measurement. Leading examples are Arad’s OCTAVE bulk meter, which has recently been joined by the SONATA residential meter. Both OCTAVE and SONATA are IoT-ready data endpoints that surpass the performance of mechanical water meters (smart or otherwise) with: reliable precision at both very low and above-maximum flow rates; bidirectional flow measurement; exceptionally long life (15 years maintenance-free); can be installed in any position; not affected by sand or other particles in the water. It is smart water meters such as these that will power the digital revolution in the water utility market.

References

[1] Smart Water Meters Gain Traction In Drought-Ridden California, Breaking Energy, April 2015
[2] US water utility survey shows market is ready for AMI, Metering & Smart Energy International, October 6, 2015
[3] Smart water: regulations are driving global demand, says research, Metering & Smart Energy International, August 17, 2015
[4] Smart Meters Snitch on Water Wasters in a Drought, Wired, June 15, 2015
[5] Smart Water Meters Gain Traction In Drought-Ridden California, Breaking Energy, April 2015


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