Operationalising Smart Meter Networks: Benefits for Utilities and Their Customers

Tony Wise – Smart Meter/AMI Lead APAC, Jacobs Engineering Pty Ltd

In March 2019, James Bevan, the Chief Executive of the UK Environment Agency, described the “Jaws of death – the point at which, unless we take action to change things, we will not have enough water to supply our needs.” In the UK, that point is projected to occur around 2040.

That was a massive wake-up call, especially given the perception that it always rains in the UK.

New Zealanders have a unique cultural relationship with water, and New Zealand has a relatively high average annual rainfall. With limited storage and relatively high-water use, many councils and water utilities face a similar scenario to the UK, where water demand is projected to exceed supply.

It’s been estimated that 21% of water supplied to urban areas is lost on the way to its end-use (Transforming the system for delivering three waters services June 2020). Leaks can exist for months or years before being found. Also, customer-side leaks contribute to waste and higher demand. In Wellington, significant capital expenditure could be required as early as 2026 to meet the potential growth in water demand.

This paper summarises the benefits, challenges, and reality of deploying Advanced Meter Infrastructure (AMI). It explores how to move on from trials to delivering a meaningful reduction in water demand.

AMI networks can be essential in identifying and locating leaks in a water distribution network. AMI can also help councils identify customer leaks, reducing demand and preventing damage. Councils can also share timely and accurate customer water use information with customers empowering them to understand the linkage between behaviours and their actual water consumption. Yarra Valley Water found that about 8% of all customer properties had some form of a leak and learned that most customers appreciated being told about leaks on their properties. These communications contributed to an increase in customer satisfaction with Yarra Valley Water as a utility provider.

Successfully implemented AMI programs typically require a business case that identifies benefits, including reduced operational costs and improved customer communication and engagement. The business case also serves as a mechanism to identify business requirements and further define the project’s specifics.

Designing, specifying, and selecting suppliers is also complex. Smart metering is the ‘toughest of the tough’ Internet of Things (IoT) use cases. Several technologies, including wireless, metrology and IT, are used to make up a successful AMI solution.

Meters are expensive, located in harsh environments, and must last up to 15 years to make the business case work. Low-power wireless technologies such as Bluetooth, LoRa, Sigfox, and NB IoT have leapfrogged each other over time. Getting the communications and metrology technology right are some of the biggest challenges.

Many utilities examine Smart Metering with trials. These are useful to see the benefits firsthand and understand the challenges. However, trials are a means to an end without clearly articulated success criteria and a predefined path forward. They don’t provide a water utility with the ability to operationalise the benefits of an AMI system. Establishing a successful long-term project that ‘holds the supplier's feet to the fire’ and ensures the appropriate parties own the risk factors such as battery life is critical. This paper explores how this can be achieved.


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