Get Smart: Leveraging Electric and Gas Smart-Meter Experience
Water utilities have been slower to adopt smart meters and related infrastructure than their electric and gas counterparts. A smart water meter typically consists of a small device called a meter interface unit (MIU) attached to a traditional water meter to record and send detailed water flow measurements to the utility.
Our recent research suggests that water utilities are starting to adopt similar technology – driven by their hunger for data to increase efficiency, reduce costs, improve service quality, and respond faster to evolving customer and regulatory expectations.
At West Monroe Partners, a business and technology consultancy, where I lead the water practice, we conducted a study of more than 70 U.S. water utilities and found that 35 percent have adopted automated metering systems (AMS), and most of those that have not are considering doing so soon.
A smart water meter enables the local utility to provide consumers with detailed water usage information and alerts (e.g. leaks, budget limits) on a near real-time basis. Consumers can elect to change their water usage patterns based on this information to save money and/or improvement the environment.
Here are the main findings from our study:
- Only 45 percent of water utilities that have adopted AMS currently use an analytics platform to leverage the data they get from it. Those that have not implemented analytics offered various reasons, including cost, unclear benefits, lack of expertise, and lack of time. Interestingly, only 23 percent of utilities surveyed believe they have the organizational infrastructure to manage and use AMS data. Utilities with current analytics capabilities use them for leak detection and, to a lesser degree, for pressure management and forecasting demand.
- More than 70 percent of those surveyed see positive value in AMS for improving billing, operations, and maintenance functions.
- Utilities that already use analytics expressed a desire for meter health/right-sizing, more and better pressure management tools, asset management, and preventative maintenance capabilities. Utilities that don’t currently use analytics want leak detection and asset management functionalities.
Why does this matter to homeowners?
Given these results, it is likely that your water utility will install smart water meters soon. Most utilities offer a customer portal solution to allow you to view your water usage by hour, which will help inform the water usage patterns in your home and may even identify water leaks. Leading edge utilities will offer leak detection capabilities and inform their customers of potentially costly leaks.
Help shape the use of data and analytics to drive home water use. Recurring themes in our discussions with water utilities included the lack of knowledge around currently available analytics solutions and an inability to estimate the internal capabilities necessary for managing and using data from smart meters. With the benefit of having electric and gas smart-meter data for some years now, home energy providers may, in fact, be a step ahead of water utilities in understanding how to use smart-meter data to influence customer behavior. Familiarize yourself with analytics offerings that support the water utility industry and then look for opportunities to work with the utility to define analytics capabilities that can address mutual goals.
I encourage you to stay abreast of your water utility’s plans to implement smart water meters. Water utilities need partners in their customers to drive adoption of this new technology and to reap the full benefits of moving toward more technologically advanced water systems.
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