The Quest for Data

Whether we like it or not, there seem to be data on just about anything and anyone these days. From your local store keeping track of the items you purchase to determine your preferred brands and the best coupons to send you in the mail, to your cable provider tracking the channels and movies you watch and how long you watch them, data collection and analytics are powerful tools.  

For water utilities, sophisticated data analysis can provide timely, detailed information that helps boost customer service, identify inefficiencies and realize higher revenues. 

As drought, population growth and tightening budgets put more pressure on utilities, the need for smart metering systems is evident. 

Smart metering offers utilities enhanced data collection and analysis and is essential for leak detection. This helps identify anything from small leaks in mains to leaks on customer premises—such as faulty plumbing—to actual monitoring for compliance with local water restrictions. 

For instance, some utilities in drought-impacted areas may be pressured to identify possible violations, such as outdoor watering or non-essential water use during restricted hours. Analysis of smart metering data can help levy sanctions and is directly linked to revenue recovery.

Of course, the upfront cost to implement smart metering systems is significant. 

According to an Oracle Corp. white paper titled, “Smart Metering for Water Utilities,” while it is easy to estimate the obvious costs associated with smart metering—installing smart meters, two-way communications infrastructure, a meter data management application, and the integration necessary for utility applications to utilize the data—there are other, less apparent costs. These may include: 

  • Adding technology and infrastructure to implement and support smart meters and the volumes of data they generate; 
  • Modifying or replacing CIS; 
  • Expanding asset tracking to include smart meter communication capability, software and firmware versions; 
  • Expanding or obtaining software to view and analyze the usage data by various utility business and operating functions; 
  • Educating customers about the meter replacement project, including its anticipated costs and benefits; and 
  • Researching and designing new rates.

Despite the significant costs, U.S. water utilities are embracing smart metering infrastructure. According to a recent Bloomberg report, water utilities are expected to spend $2 billion on smart meters from 2013 to 2020, almost matching all previous investment in the leak-finding devices.

Although the quest for sophisticated metering data presents some challenges, timely and detailed information is key for a utility’s ability to provide accurate consumption data to customers. Furthermore, it is an important step toward water conservation. 

Neda Simeonova is editorial director of Water & Wastes Digest. Simeonova can be reached at nsimeonova@sgcmail.com or 847.391.1011.

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