in association with

David Ainsley, private sector director – utility, Capita Domestic water retail, Non-domestic water retail, Water, Opinion

The UK water utilities industry is under unprecedented pressure due to population growth, climate change and the move to net zero, tightening environmental standards and changing customer expectations, as well as scarcity and unpredictability of supply.

Mandated smart meters for power and gas are laying the foundation for digitising the energy industry. The highly accurate, real-time data these meters gather is invaluable not only for measuring the environmental impacts of energy use, but also for better understanding of consumer behaviour and improved customer experience.

Although not yet mandated in the UK, smart water meters can have great benefits for the water industry, the environment and consumers. Research demonstrates that they result in increased customer awareness and action around the importance of water conservation, and in turn on reduced costs for utilities which are passed on to the consumer in the form of lower bills.

But how can smart water meters help support the country’s drive towards net zero and also improve customer experience? Some consumers will welcome a system that enables them to track their efforts towards sustainability, gives them more control over their consumption and rewards them. Others may be more sceptical, concerned less with environmental impact than that their bills remain as low as possible. To encourage greater uptake, the data gathered by smart meters must be put to work – smartly.

Smart meter data can help organisations identify consumption and other trends which in turn can shape their strategy. The data can also be used to segment customer groups and build granular customer profiles, enabling water companies to tailor the way they communicate with different customer personas and which services they offer to certain subsets.

Smart meters can also play an important role in saving money. Through analysis of the data they gather, utilities can quickly identify leaks. Not only will this reduce consumers’ overall water consumption and lower their bills; it can also pre-empt the need for costly property repairs due to water damage.

Rolling out a million smart water meters a year could save one billion litres of water every day within 15 years – cutting the UK’s emissions by 0.5% and potentially saving customers thousands of pounds. As every litre of clean water has a carbon value (based on the emissions spent on cleaning it, pumping it via water towers, drawing it down to one’s household, heating it where necessary, etc) as well as a monetary one, the industry certainly has a role to play in carbon reduction.

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