Smart meters have been prominent in the energy utility world, and are beginning to make substantial inroads in the water utility world. Smart meters are probably more useful for the water sector than for the energy sector, and the old days of billing total water consumption during the last month or two is being phased out with the introduction of time-of-use water consumption information. Smart meter installations have reported numerous benefits, both operational and on the customer side (see Table 1). Aside from the obvious savings from reduced need for onsite meter reading, the ability to identify not just the volume of water consumption but also the timing of that consumption has significant benefits, particularly to customers, and may be a linchpin for enhanced water conservation efforts. This is particularly an issue for California, where urban water customers are under mandatory 25 percent reductions in water usage due to the lack of available snowpack and current drought.
Reduced customer leak losses: All smart meter programs provide automatic customer leak detection. According to the algorithm they follow, at some point in a 24-hour period for a duration specified by the water utility, customer's water consumption should drop to zero. If customer usage never drops to zero, that account is flagged for utility operators' notice. There are corrective algorithms that account for customer usage of evaporative/swamp coolers if that is a concern in the utility area.
Outdoor watering day limitations: Another typical water conservation effort is to limit outdoor watering to pre-specified days, such as even numbered days - only on Tuesday or Thursday, etc. Enforcement of this measure without smart meters requires considerable personnel expense, as someone has to physically inspect the site. With smart meter data, customers watering on the wrong days become immediately obvious.
Time-of-use watering restrictions: One water conservation program that is popular is to limit outdoor watering in the daylight or afternoon hours. The enforcement of this type of program has the same issues as the outdoor watering day programs, and interval water consumption data quickly identifies customers who are not participating.
Lon W. House, PhD, CEM, CSDP, is a Water and Energy Consultant with over 25 years of experience. Dr. House has a Bachelors, two Masters, and a PhD in Engineering and Economics from UC Davis. He is a Certified Energy Manager (CEM) and a Certified Sustainable Development Professional (CSDP) with the Association of Energy Engineers. Dr. House taught engineering in Graduate School at UC Davis for a number of years and was the Founder and Co-Director for Hydropower at the UCD Energy Institute. He worked for the California Energy Commission as a utility planner, and was the chief utility planner for the California Public Utilities Commission.
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