Archive for the ‘Energy Services Directive’ Category

Smart water meters

Sunday, June 14th, 2009

The development of smart water meters has also not progressed as quickly as smart electricity meters, as the debate on whether to universally meter water is still underway.

Only a quarter of UK homes are currently metered and a negligible percentage of these have smart water meters.

The potential environmental benefits of smart water meters are their ability to:

  • reduce consumption
  • reduce peak demand
  • detect leaks and increase efficiency

Metering trials conducted since 1970 have consistently resulted in water use falling by 5 – 21 per cent. It is generally assumed that water meters can reduce demand by an average of ten per cent by making people more aware of how much water they use. Smart water meters have the added benefits of being able to provide more detailed information on consumption and presenting it in a more user-friendly way, as well as enabling variable charging to reduce peak demand.

The size of the UK’s water system (number of reservoirs and pipes) is determined by peak demand in the summer, but it is driven by a small percentage of the population with very high consumption. Their use requires higher capital investment in infrastructure, with the associated environmental impacts, and the costs are passed on to the whole population. It would be preferable to introduce a higher tariff in summer which would be applied above a certain level of use. People would therefore pay more for discretionary use (e.g. excessively watering gardens or filling paddling pools every day), which is likely to reduce overall demand. Smart meters would be required for this, as ‘dumb’ ones would not able to assess consumption patterns against the seasons and differentiate between discretionary and necessary use if, for example, consumption is high because of large family.

Smart water meters can also detect leaks in homes by measuring flow rate. Current estimates suggest that one third of water leaks are in domestic properties, where customers are responsible for them. A smart water meter could highlight them and prevent ongoing wastage once the leaks are mended.

Progress so far
Water companies have been looking at water meters more thoroughly due to increasingly frequent water shortages and the potential for smart water meters to help reduce capital investment requirements is a further incentive. The Environment Agency aims for 70 per cent of homes to have water meters by 2030 and the water industry is in general agreement with this. If they are to go for water meters on this scale it makes sense to go straight to smart ones, although not all will. Companies are also mindful of the EU Energy End Use Efficiency and Energy Services Directive and the possibility that similar metering and billing requirements will be placed on them, which makes smart meters yet more attractive.

Work is underway on developing a common data specification for smart water meters but the regulator, Ofwat, needs to be confident that meters will deliver a ten per cent reduction in water demand to justify passing the costs of smart meters on to consumers. This highlights the need for more consistent and sustained research to confirm the data.

And even with sound evidence of a ten per cent drop in consumption from a trial, unexpected weather may still change peoples’ behaviour. They may be willing to pay far more for water to maintain their gardens during a very hot summer, despite more expensive variable tariffs, than a trial that took place in a mild summer may suggest. Suppliers need to have confidence that consumption will fall, whatever the weather, as it will influence decisions about whether to invest in additional water supply capacity.

Progress is required to confirm the extent of the savings that smart water meters offer and to address the complexities created by uncertainty about peoples’ behaviour. But they will be the missing piece that will provide households with a full picture of their resource use alongside smart electricity and gas meters.