Cellular connectivity brings advantages to smart water meters

Cellular connectivity brings advantages to smart water meters

Smart water metering is beginning to gain traction among a growing number of public utilities. With the mounting strain on local and state water supplies, increased pressures to upgrade water infrastructure, and recent advancements in technology overall, smart water metering is now more appealing to utilities and consumers alike. In fact, cellular-connected smart water meters provide significant benefits for both consumers and utilities.

Despite recent estimates that smart water meters make up less than 20% of the 100 million water meters deployed in the U.S., smart water metering technology is poised for significant growth. MarketsandMarkets forecasts the smart water management market will be worth more than $12 billion by 2018.

Cellular wireless networks have been used in smart energy metering with great success; however, there have been significant challenges in bringing the application of smart metering, or advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), to water systems technology. To succeed, utilities and equipment manufacturers needed to address a variety of cost and technical considerations for power consumption, longevity, scale and security.

In contrast to other recent technological progressions in the water utility market, such as proprietary radio frequency (RF) mesh networks and other meter advanced reading technologies (AMR) that havent always delivered the full value and ROI as promised, todays standard cellular-enabled water meters offer distinct advantages, including helping to identify and eliminate leaks and inefficiencies earlier, lowering operating costs, and improving water conservation.

Why go cellular?

Modern cellular networks have such broad reach; they nearly cover every inhabited area. This provides a wide network for an effective and efficient two-way remote communications channel between utilities and water meters. Even with newer technology, where utilities collect readings using low-power RF emitters at the meter, technicians still need to walk or drive by each meter to get a reading. Cellular technology allows utilities to acquire meter readings remotely, more frequently, and at a much lower cost.

Additionally, cellular technology simplifies deployments and improves operational efficiency. In many ways todays smart meters are plug-and-play, allowing for faster, less complicated and less expensive installations. Cellular deployments also eliminate the need to own and maintain the communications infrastructure. Instead, utilities can use proven, secure, future-proof and ubiquitous cellular networks, letting the mobile network operators worry about maintaining the network, while the utilities focus on their core business.

Mobile operators and equipment vendors are also making it easier to integrate with back-end management, billing, and remote cloud management systems. These proven, reliable and secure systems mean utilities arent tasked with building systems from scratch and can take advantage of proven software and platforms that already support millions of devices, and employ strong encryption, secure connectivity, and secure access mechanisms to keep the network and customer data safe.

Because of this, smart water meters using cellular technology are beginning to establish a true value proposition across the board. Lets further explore some additional advantages of a water meter system with cellular-enabled technology.

Informed, empowered consumer

Traditional meters only send readings once every 30 to 60 days, but with todays smart meters, a reading is typically reported back once a day. Unlike electricity meters, which can use a built-in power source, water meters typically have no ready access to external power. They must be designed to consume as little battery energy as possible. In most cases, this means the meter will be off nearly all the time, but can still transmit a reading once every 24 hours.

Together, these advances help the utility assist in the development of a more informed consumer. Rather than waiting weeks or even months to provide water usage data, a smart water meter supplies real-time information, allowing consumers to better understand and monitor water consumption daily. Unknowns such as leaks, breaks and other inefficiencies can be identified instantaneously, saving water and money. With greater access, consumers are not only able to more closely monitor and modify behaviors, they are empowered to use the data to identify potential issues early, allowing the utility to detect and repair minor problems before they become major issues.

Effective conservation

Smart water meter implementation comes at a time when water scarcity concerns and discussions on sustainability and efficiency are at an all-time high. Through the development of cellular technology in smart water meters and metering infrastructure, smart water meters can now play a crucial role in water conservation.

This is especially an important as the U.S. Southwest enters its fourth year of drought. With the help of cellular-connected smart water meters, regions suffering from droughts will be able to better monitor limits in real time and monitor usage remotely. In areas with no shortage of water, utilities can still benefit from conservation by way of efficient and effective tracking and infrastructure monitoring, reducing wastage and wastewater processing for increased cost-effectiveness.

Improved water resources management

Better measurement allows for increased insight, and the ability to identify patterns can help utilities better detect anomalies and inefficiencies while improving service overall. The benefits of smart water metering are substantial for water management, recapturing lost revenue from leaks and theft, while reducing utility operating costs. And in particular, cellular technology is poised to play a crucial role in the growth of the market as more governments and utilities look for reliable, long-lasting solutions that can be deployed quickly and cost-effectively.

Today, most governments around the world have not yet mandated investment in smart water meters as has been the case with AMI for energy infrastructure. But this is expected to change, for a number of reasons. First, AMI can help utilities reduce non-revenue water (NRW) by allowing them to accurately pinpoint leaks and potential theft. In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that about 6 billion gallons of water are lost to leaks each year. Worldwide, the World Bank estimates that NRW costs governments and utilities approximately $14 billion annually.

Source: Intelligent Utility

SMART GRID Bulletin March 2017

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