Sanjay Neogi, head of UK and Europe and chief operating engineer Easwar Parameswaran at technology and engineering consultancy Enzen explain metering is only the first step towards networks themselves becoming smart.
In homes, smart meters can help billpayers understand how much water they are using and where, as well as managing their consumption and bills and spotting leaks faster.
Neogi says that while these features improve the consumer experience, there is much more to learn from the data available across water networks. He explains the information fed back from sensors and loggers can manage pressure, flow, predict demand patterns, monitor water quality – all of which feed into companies’ outcome delivery incentive (ODI) commitments.
Last week Ofwat asked stakeholders what the water sector could look like in 2040 and how the regulator should help companies work towards it. Looking to PR24, Ofwat noted the pressures the sector is facing to deliver more for customers and the environment while keeping bills low. It advocated for nature-based solutions and smart networks to help companies meet the challenges.
The adoption of automatic meter reading (AMR) has steadily increased since it was developed in the 1980s and although metering remains low in some parts of the UK a leap to advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) is on the horizon for AMP8. Neogi believes it is more a question of when companies adopt the technology, not if.
He says the meters alone, without networks and systems built around them, would make it more difficult for companies to benefit fully from the data available and meet challenges when integrating with existing platforms.
Unlike AMR meters, with AMI data can be sent in two directions and the system is operated through a centralised data company rather than the energy supplier.
The invaluable data and insight from AMI, Neogi says, can extend the lifespan of pipes, with information from sensors and loggers that can feed back to the company to offer a picture of the health of assets and where weaknesses may be in a network.
Neogi explains: “In water, from a regulation point of view, metering has not been mandated so far but mandates are coming in now and there are many areas that an automated metering infrastructure is going to help, such as customer experience and leakage management. To reduce consumption and make people understand what they are using, you need to have data insight and an understanding of consumption patterns.”
“When we talk about AMI there are a lot of companies putting meters in place but it’s not just about the meter – it’s about the infrastructure in place to support it,” Neogi says. “It’s one thing getting the data but you also need analytics to understand what is happening within the data.”
For example, in a drought prone area consumption patterns together with catchment management data would give a broad picture of what is happening across the network and allow operators to react accordingly.
“The meters are the eyes and ears of a network; the infrastructure adds intelligence to the network,” Neogi says. “The various sensors across the network together with smart meters show information about consumption and flow to help with billing but then goes a step beyond.”
The added intelligence can show where pipes or connections are weak and predict where a burst might occur, which Parameswaran says has been done with around 60 per cent accuracy in overseas trials. The pressure and flow data lets companies manage resources so an area is not overstressed and disruptive bursts can be avoided.
At localised levels, Parameswaran explains how data helps householders understand their usage and how to change it. “When customers are told they are using too much water they might not like that, but if you can match it with data that shows their usage against other households then they can understand if there is water being lost,” he says. “Companies can have conversations in much more methodical ways.”
The cost of AMI networks is higher than AMR, but the value comes from the data. Neogi says the analysis of this data is essential to the business case because the insights gained help inform decisions to ensure ODIs are met.
Parameswaran adds an AMI platform could help companies meet ODIs, as well improve customer experience.
“Many utilities feel smart metering alone doesn’t give a strong business case, it allows them to understand consumption and to issue bills accordingly, but additional sensors for pressure and flow and water quality in the networks give insights to inform business decisions,” he says.
Trials are underway across England and Wales to connect smart meters and networks with internet of things technology in preparation for a wider rollout in AMP8. Although not even a full year into AMP7, businesses will need to prepare to be ready for the next hurdles AMP8 will bring. Better data leading to better understanding of networks to deliver better service is a move in the right direction.