In 2010, smart water meters were introduced in the state of California in the USA. In November 2013, Thames Water in the UK began a programme to install water meters at all the properties it serves. Unlike traditional water meters, which require a person to go to the place where the meter is located and take the reading, a smart meter connects your home to your utility wirelessly and records water usage data as frequently as you wish. This leads to faster and more efficient meter reading; the money wasted on fuel for traveling around the locations to take meter readings is saved.
Smart meters also give the user immediate feedback on how much water is being used and how much money is being spent. It is reported that that metered customers use water more sparingly than unmeasured customers because their water usage and the attached costs are so transparent to them such that they tend to use less.
Smart meters also help with theft and leakage detection when meter readings become abnormally high. They also provide an opportunity for real-time pricing leading to more expensive water during peak hours in order to conserve water. It is reported that smart water management technology is set to be a $16 billion industry by 2020 as more and more water utilities embrace the technology.
In September 2013, Capstone Metering LLC, a Texas-based technology company, announced that Verizon Wireless had certified a cell module for the company’s IntelliH(2) O(R) intelligent water meter. This was one of the first smart water meter solutions to include cellular capabilities in the meter providing connectivity over a cellular network.
On the other hand, it is also encouraging to observe that academia is also greatly involved in smart water research. I recently stumbled on the work of Prof. Rachel Cardell-Oliver from the University of Western Australia. In one of her recent papers, she presents water use signature patterns, which is said to be the first technique designed for medium resolution meters for discovering patterns that explain how households use water.
As far as smart water is concerned, it would be a great shame if African utilities were to be left behind in this revolution. The concept is simple; we know where to get the smart water meters. All that remains is to set up some smart water metering pilot projects to establish the areas where there may be a need to customize before eventually rolling out to more and more areas.
By drawing lessons from Australia and the USA, I would recommend that water utilities should include the academia (researchers in wireless sensor networks, data mining etc.) and mobile operators when setting up these pilot projects. All the three groups will play some very clear roles for the success of the projects.