Choosing the best system to identify leaks & reduce non-revenue water
Non-revenue water (NRW) remains a significant issue for some utilities. Many water providers in North America experience approximately 20 to 30% NRW, and it is something the industry has tried to address for decades. Fortunately, innovations in metering, measurement, communications and analytics tools have produced solutions for NRW that are achievable for utilities of any size.
To improve upon NRW and convert it into revenue, utilities should take a strategic approach in addressing both apparent and real water loss. If implemented correctly, such a system can pay for itself and create ongoing cost savings.
1. Tackle Apparent Loss
Apparent water loss usually results from issues with data and billing systems, customer meter inaccuracies and unauthorized consumption. There are solutions to reduce these problems while enhancing metering performance and improving administrative capabilities. Utilities quickly can generate significant cost savings by focusing on three key areas:
• Meter accuracy. As meter components experience wear and tear, there may be performance issues when the meter stops recording every consumption data point. Replacing or recalibrating older meters could help improve accuracy by 85% to almost 100%.
• Billing. Billing records can be lost when completed manually or lead to issues with units of measurement if systems were not installed correctly. Utilities can streamline the process to cut operating costs and errors using an automated billing system coupled with an advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) platform.
• Unauthorized use. Alarms can help utilities circumvent registration of meters and restrict access from unauthorized personnel. Most modern metering systems incorporate some type of alarm feature, so a utility can enhance protection by deploying smart meters with tamper detection.
It is worth considering a sequential approach when evaluating and deploying solutions for dealing with apparent water loss. This way, the additional revenue gained by addressing one challenge (meter accuracy, for example) can be used to invest in solutions to tackle other, more complex problems, so the system becomes self-justifying.
Real water loss is trickier to find and address than apparent loss, as it is water that never makes it to the end user. These losses are tied to leaks often from broken or failing pipe.
2. Address Real Water Loss
Real loss occurs when a leak or spill happens and the water never gets to the customer. Utilities can address real loss by enhancing water distribution management and monitoring systems. Here is a menu of strategic solutions:
• Mass balance. A mass-balance system gives utilities a zone view of currently deployed water meters. If something comes up, service technicians can hone in on the zone and address the issue quickly. This system also provides insight into which zones might be prone to water leaks, allowing for better prioritization of resources.
• Acoustic solutions. Leveraging sensors with sound waves, acoustic solutions offer the capability to monitor distribution lines and precisely locate leaks. Sensors are activated overnight so they can “listen” to the distribution system when ambient noise is at its lowest and then report pipeline conditions to the utility through the communication network.
• Fluid energy solutions. Fluid energy systems identify leaks in near-real time. The systems leverage current magnitude and load metrics to time-stamp water flow and pressure. Paired with load monitoring and reporting capabilities, these systems give utilities access to critical operational and planning information along with traditional fault indication for enhanced leak management.
• Advanced leak detection. Sophisticated solutions are available for advanced leak detection. Utilities that use technology such as infrared cameras allow service technicians to monitor pipes for cracks or other issues that cause leaks. Advanced leak detection gathers much more data and fine-tunes leak detection to specific percentage points.
To determine the best approach, each utility should examine real water loss solutions based on specific needs and budget. For instance, a utility may deploy a fluid energy or acoustic solution, but not necessarily both. Factors such as the utility’s size and customer base are also considerations.
By evaluating solutions for metering, measurement, communications and analytics, utilities can implement a strategic system for improving unmetered water, inaccurate billing and leak detection.
This system can help utilities close the gap between the volume of water they supply and the water driving revenue each month. Improving overall water system health and accuracy adds immediate value for utilities and their customers.